Jour Fixe: Punishment and labour relations. Cuba between abolition and empire (1835-1886)

Jour Fixe

  • Date: Jun 17, 2019
  • Time: 12:00 PM - 01:00 PM (Local Time Germany)
  • Speaker: Christian G. De Vito (Bonn Centre for Dependency and Slavery Studies, University of Bonn)
  • Location: MPIeR
  • Room: Z01
Jour Fixe: Punishment and labour relations. Cuba between abolition and empire (1835-1886)

This presentation argues for the need to study the plural functions that various types of punishment have simultaneously played in connection with multiple labour relations within given historical contexts. I seek to overcome standard approaches that have looked exclusively at entanglements between single types of punishment and single labour relations, i.e. between incarceration and wage labour (Rusche and Kirchheimer; Foucault; Melossi and Pavarini; Steinfeld) or between punishment and slavery (Sellin). In order to pluralize both labour and punishment, I take a double move. On the one hand, I embrace the perspective suggested by global labour historians regarding the need to address the multiple labour relations that have been part of the process of labour commodification. Therefore, I insist that not only wage labour and slavery, but also tributary work, indentured, debt bondage and other labour relations should be investigated in their connection with punishment. On the other hand, expanding from the debate on “legal pluralism”, I introduce the concept of “punitive pluralism” to address the various types of punishment that have been imbricated in the shifts in labour relations. “Punitive pluralism” – I contend – allows addressing at once all practices of punishment within a given historical context, including private- and state-administered punishments, incarceration and penal transportation, banishment and all types of administrative measures.

The presentation investigates the connections between punishment and labour relations by referring to the case of Cuba in the decades between the second Anglo-Spanish treaty for the abolition of the slave trade (1835) and the end of the apprenticeship system, or patronato (1886), that followed the abolition of slavery on the island (1880). Each part of the presentation investigates one area where punishment and labour relations interacted. They are designed to highlight the wide reach of punitive practices vis-à-vis several groups of the population and various regions of the island.

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