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Natal Alienation, Emancipation, Damnation

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Organizer: Taija Mars McDougall

Co-Organizer: Sean Capener

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This panel brings together black critical theory, religious studies, legal and economic history, and continental philosophy to interrogate the conceptual implications of  what has come after the life and in the afterlife of natal alienation. With his 1982 book Slavery and Social Death, Orlando Patterson provoked a critical reevaluation of the meaning of slavery as a social form. In the triad of permanent, violent domination, general dishonor, and natal alienation, Patterson claimed to identify the essential features of slavery, upending an inherited common sense that had treated the slave as an unpaid and involuntary source of labor. Over the following decades, black feminist writers and black critical theorists have taken up and reworked the last of these terms–natal alienation–in order to think through problems pertaining to blackness, kinship, and kinlessness. The critical attention to this concept has attempted make visible the terms of racial order that precede and follow the law of partus sequitur ventrem and similar regimes governing race and reproduction, inheritance and disinheritance across the world made by Atlantic slavery and its global afterlife.The important strides made by these thinkers, however, raise a question that is already implicit in their work but has heretofore gone unelaborated: what happens to natal alienation after the official end of partus as the de jure law of the land? Does it persist in a purely psychic and symbolic register, no longer supported by the explicit force of law, or does it maintain a structural purchase after the (non)-event of emancipation? If so, how, by what means, and with what symbolic or material accompaniments? This panel takes this ensemble of  questions as our direct terrain and we invite papers that engage the following themes and topics through Black Studies:

The impacts of legal emancipation
Permanence and persistence against theories of change
Injury vs. contract
Inheritability of status
The household as social and political form
Natality and nativity
Constitutive alienation
The captive maternal

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