Studies of various shades (legal realism, Critical Legal Studies, social history of law) keep a common inspiration against formalist approaches, which focus on the internal culture of the legal field. Legal meanings (and its concepts practices) can be interpreted from social sources (contexts, dynamics, institutional framework). In this research project, a specific legal category (legal personality), which is central in the legal doctrine of modernity, was elected to show the problem of its social construction in a borderline case: slavery. To allow a dense description of this process, we propose a research on history of law, using as main source slave freedom suits in the final decades of the Empire of Brazil. These processes are rich sources for understanding the slave society of the nineteenth century, they express the active participation of blacks in building their own social and cultural background and provide indications of how slaves and freedmen understand the law. That is, then, the problem of research to be developed from this project: how were discussions about the legal status of slaves in the Judicial Branch? Through the analysis of 126 freedom suits that are part of the Judiciary Collection from the National Archives, will seek to identify the different arguments about the legal status of slaves. Also will be used legal books and periodicals of the second half of the nineteenth century.
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