Freedom and oppression of slaves in the eighteenth-century Caribbean

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    Authors & editors

    Stinchcombe, Arthur L [Author]

    Publisher American Sociological Review
    Year of publication 1994 Vol 59 (6) December pp 911-929

    Medium Digital

    Food (non-cereal) processes > Sugar
    People and communities > Slavery


    Scope & contentConclusion (first paragrpah only)
    The sociology of slavery and freedom has been crippled by not treating freedom as a continuous variable. Freedom is often thought of as a legal concept, as for example that defined in the Bill of Rights of the United States, so it is either guaranteed or not. The size of the set of possibilities among which a group of people chooses-the core idea of freedom here-is clear enough conceptually but hard to specify in practice because possibilities not chosen do not leave a historical record.

    My intellectual strategy has been to specify freedom by its causes, the causes of more and less restriction on slaves' choices in the late eighteenth-century Caribbean. These causes fall into two main groups: (1) the causes related to the power in island societies that was held by sugar planters, who had a great interest in restricting slaves' liberties, and (2) the causes related to -the use by slave owners of their property rights in making agency contracts with their slaves.

    The scattered evidence of what slaves and their owners in fact chose (such as manumission of the slave), or of what slaves could choose (such as how to spend their wages), or of what property rights slaves had (such as having enough money to buy freedom), suggests the shape and size of the set of possibilities under different causal conditions.

    Divisions within this publication

    • 1: Background
    • 2: Explaining inter-island variation in slavery: sugar cane, planter dominance, and island autonomy
    • 3: Explaining within-island variations in slavery: slaves as agents
    • 4: Conclusion

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