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Punishment, Labor and the Legitimation of Power

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Interdisciplinary Workshop

Event details
  • Workshop
When Feb 18, 2021 11:00 to
Feb 19, 2021 11:00
Where Heinz Heinen Kolleg
Contact Name Adam Fagbore
Contact Email
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The Bonn Center for Dependency and Slavery Studies (BCDSS) aims to analyze personal, social and spatial dependency from a global, long-term and trans-disciplinary perspective. Within the BCDSS, the research group Punishment, Labor, Dependency addresses the ways in which the entanglements of punitive and labor regimes impact the production and reproduction of dependency.

The International Workshop Punishment, Labor and the Legitimation of Power, organized by the BCDSS research group "Punishment, Labor Dependency", seeks to investigate how, within specific historical contexts, various forms and sources of punishment have impacted multiple labor regimes. Moreover, we aim to analyze the practices and discourses of different historical (elite and non-elite) actors that have constructed and contested the legitimation of punishment and labor regimes. Finally, we wish to understand how and under which circumstances the interactions between punishment and labor have resulted in the creation of personal, social and spatial dependencies.

The participants are asked to engage with four broad theoretical arguments that will be discussed during the International Workshop:

  1. The perspectives of the performer, the victim, and the witness all differ, and the definition of what constitutes a legitimate act of punishment or violence is a social construct and therefore can be continuously contested socially (Riches, 1988; Coleman et al., 2009). Moreover, multiple legitimations of violence co-exist and conflict connected to power asymmetries in society. Therefore, the study of punitive regimes cannot be separated from the analysis of the ways power is exercised, legitimized and contested by various actors.
  2. Punishment has historically played multiple functions vis-a-vis the production and reproduction of labor coercion. Among others, it has legitimized coercive regimes of labor extraction, enhanced the direct control of workers imbricated in multiple labor relations, and contributed to the production of convict labor. Potential papers relating to broader themes concerning anti-vagrancy laws (of any period) are particularly welcome.
  3. We need to pluralize both punishment and labor in order to study their entanglements. Indeed, multiple labor relations, and various sources and forms of punishment, have co-existed within each historical context.
    Thus: we should study the simultaneous and connected roles played by various labor relations (wage labor, slavery, serfdom, indentured servitude, etc.) (Brass and van der Linden, 1997; van der Linden, 2008); we need to recognize that normative regimes leading to punishment have stemmed from multiple sources, including various state and religious institutions, kinship, individuals ("legal pluralism": Tamanaha, 2008; Benton and Ross, 2013; Duve, 2017); and we should write entangled histories of various punitive regimes (imprisonment, transportation, exile, capital punishment, etc.: Sherman, 2009).
  4. Changes in labor and punitive regimes have usually implied transitions from one to another combination of multiple labor and punitive regimes, rather than linear shifts towards single labor relations and punitive regimes (De Vito, 2018). This invites us to move beyond the traditional approach that has seen wage labor and imprisonment as the prospective points of the whole history of labor and punishment.

For further information and clarifications, please contact the International Workshop organizer: Adam Fagbore (University of Bonn): afagbore[at]

Please inform us of your potential to cover the costs as The Bonn Center for Dependency and Slavery Studies (BCDSS) may cover part of the travel and accommodation costs of the accepted speakers that cannot fund themselves through their own institutions.

Download the Call for Papers here.

Heinz Heinen Kolleg for Advanced Studies (HHK)
University of Bonn
Heussallee 18–24
D-53113 Bonn

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