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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Rethinking Bondage


This module seeks to open up a series of historical and philosophical questions about the concept of bondage. In so doing, it endeavors to interrogate bondage as both a conceptual and historical problematic that has been central to the making of the modern world. While the notion of “bondage” appears to carry with it a set of self-evident meanings and definitions rooted in the broader concepts of servitude and subjugation, we seek to highlight the ways in which people across time and space have been “socialized” into various logics and practices of bondage. Ultimately, at the heart of this problem lies a series of deeper questions about the ways in which the notions of “freedom” and “unfreedom” are constituted through various institutional sites and practices.

Rather than attempting to offer an exhaustive definition of bondage that addresses this concept in its totality, this module instead opens up some key questions and nodes for consideration, drawing attention to some of the most critical ways in which modern bondage has been practiced and understood. Exploring the refractions of bondage through specific historical moments and institutional sites will demonstrate how seemingly disparate forms of servitude and unfreedom were in fact deeply connected -- by ideologies and practices that traveled freely across borders and continued to reincarnate in later times. Simply stated, this module attempts to track a massively important human phenomenon in several different historical manifestations. 

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