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Global Slaveries

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Organizer: Laura Murphy

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Despite its utterly inhumane contours, slavery is a wholly human endeavor, an exploitative relationship between an extractor of labor and a producer of labor. At the same time, as an institution endemic to capitalism’s expansion, it suffuses global systems of exchange, consumption, and desire that are so often and so ironically touted as inherently liberatory. As an expression of power and control, both in the sphere of the market and of the intimate, it appears to have existed for all of human history and may very well continue to exist as long as humans continue to commodify labor. Indeed, despite it being considered morally reprehensible and legally illegitimate in practically every society today, slavery still infects our global supply chains, our battlefields, and our domestic spaces. This very human injustice is thus unsurprisingly an underlying current in global literatures from the Caribbean to the Middle East, from Africa to Asia. Local in its iterations but global in its trajectories, slavery produces its own grammar of violence that is in turn shaped by its interpersonal scenes of subjection.

Literary critical and theoretical approaches to slavery have often focused on the era and geographies of the transatlantic slave trade and hardly reached any further. This myopic attention to a very narrow depiction of slavery has put a set of intellectual brackets around the diverse landscapes and experiences of slavery around the globe and throughout human history. Even Paul Gilroy’s provocative call to a more globalized approach to slavery in The Black Atlantic nearly exclusively ponders American depictions of the transatlantic trade. 


This panel seeks proposals for papers on the way global writers have grappled with slavery’s footprint on both the intimate spaces and the planetary circuits throughout modernity and now into the 21st century. We invite literary scholars of Asia, the Middle East, Latin America, Africa and elsewhere who work on slavery outside of the transatlantic context (or who take up the transatlantic in larger context or connections) to propose papers that challenge the boundaries of slavery studies or open up new directions for analysis and comparison.  We are anticipating a set of panels that will expand American comparative literary slavery studies to include a much more diverse set of texts, locations, and critical perspectives.

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