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Illegal enslavement and the precariousness of freedom in 19th-Century Rio de Janeiro (1830s to 1880s)

Grant number: 10/00162-2
Support Opportunities:Scholarships abroad - Research
Effective date (Start): September 01, 2010
Effective date (End): February 28, 2011
Field of knowledge:Humanities - History - History of Brazil
Principal Investigator:Sidney Chalhoub
Grantee:Sidney Chalhoub
Host Investigator: Zephyr Lake Frank
Host Institution: Instituto de Filosofia e Ciências Humanas (IFCH). Universidade Estadual de Campinas (UNICAMP). Campinas , SP, Brazil
Research place: Stanford University, United States  
Associated research grant:06/57297-1 - Workers in Brazil: identities, rights and politics (17th to the 20th Century), AP.TEM


This research focuses on illegal enslavement and the precariousness of freedom in 19th-century Brazil, with special interest in the city of Rio de Janeiro. In general, I seek to investigate the social logic operating behind the always large number of people arrested suspected of being slaves in the capital. The widespread practice of illegally enslaving Africans recently introduced to the country, therefore disregarding the law of 1831 abolishing the slave trade, rendered freedom precarious for freed and free blacks in general in that society. Thus I argue that the emphasis on modes and opportunities to achieve liberty in 19th-century Brazil, so prevalent in historical studies, must be balanced with adequate attention to the experience of freedom, especially regarding the social mechanisms that made it limited and risky. Besides illegal enslavement, there were also situations, legally sanctioned, that rendered uncertain the frontiers between slavery and freedom -such as conditional manumission in its several forms and revocation of freedoms. In sum, the relatively porous frontier between slavery and freedom was a structural feature of 19th-century Brazilian society, thus helping to reproduce relations of dependence and patronage deemed essential for the social control of workers -slave or "free". (AU)

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