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Research Area C: Institutions, Norms and Practices


Analyzing “Slaving” as a Historical Strategy and Enslavement as a Human Experience

Photo by Wesley Tingey, unsplash

Dependency is created at the crossroads of norms and related institutions and practices. In this context, the central fields of study in Research Area C are legislation and legal practice, establishing norms and social practice, as well as literacy and orality.

The interaction between institutions, norms and practices must be conceived as a two-way movement: top-down, for example, when institutions create norms that are – or are not – implemented into practices, and bottom-up for example, when practices produce norms/regularities and these become "institutionalized". The objective of this research area is to confront current slavery and dependency research with an institutional approach. This approach is supposed to bring together institutional economics and practice theory and to combine it with new debates on legal pluralism.

Over the last few years, the strong legalistic approach to slavery and asymmetrical dependency has been productively challenged. Under the heading of second slavery or hidden Atlantic, scholars examined the unfree living conditions of the emancipados, recaptives and kuli in the post-emancipatory colonial societies of Latin America, all of which had long remained invisible due to the predominant Western Abolitionist discourse. Additionally, a large number of previously unnoticed traditions relating to enslavement practices in Muslim and Christian societies in the Mediterranean from the fourteenth to the eighteenth centuries has been discovered. Unfree conditions in other times and spaces as well as diverse practices of enslavement beyond the legal institution of slavery have also increasingly come into focus. In other words, there is currently a shift within research towards acknowledging the historical heterogeneity of the phenomenon of slavery. Especially those forms of asymmetrical dependencies where religious justifications, a supposed agreement of the persons involved, symbolic payments, a signed contract, or a document of manumission render a categorization in terms of the common characteristics of slavery impossible have gained more attention.

Thus, the object of research is to analyze "slaving" as a historical strategy and enslavement as a human experience. Dynamics of slaving ought to be seen as both a product and a strategy of change itself, of time and timing. Instead of assuming a dichotomy between the powerful masters and powerless slaves, the objective is to analyze – from an expressly historical perspective – the contexts of both sides’ agency, asymmetrical dependency and mutual impact.

This productive revision and extension of our previous understanding of ‘slavery’ needs to be made productive for the study of all other forms of asymmetrical dependency and economic exploitation. In a dialogue between current slavery studies and the New Legal History, the concepts of justice, power and authority must be imagined in a much more pluralistic and complex way.

Institutions, Norms and Practices


Based on this very broad understanding of justice and authority, this research area takes into account the wealth of institutional regulations and normative concepts in their historical variety. Statements on differences in terms of social status and on social hierarchies and dependencies will be examined in capitularies and codes of law as much as in loose collections of customary-law settlements, mirrors for princes and other instructional sources. Sacred texts, religious treatises and dogmatic literature as well as records of religious courts and secular jurisdiction will be examined for their normative conceptions of servitude, dependency and unfreedom.

The Research will also focus on the mutual effects between processes of institutionalizing and the establishment of norms relating to social asymmetries on the one hand, and social practices of slaving and subjugation on the other. These processes of negotiating social power and status relations will be analyzed on the macro-, meso- and micro-levels.

Key Questions Include the Following:

  • What were the effects of legislation by key authoritarian institutions on the legal practices of regional and local decision-making?
  • How did the social interactions of individuals affect the small- and large-scale organization of justice, norms and social order?
  • What was the ratio in the mixture between politics and religion on different levels, and what were the consequences of a change in the legal status of persons for their social behavior?

The answers to these questions will be positioned within a transculturally comparative perspective. The interdisciplinary exchange across different times, societies and cultures will serve as an ideal starting point for a comparison across space and time, and the study of transregional similarities and differences, entanglements and disentanglements in the regulation of social power and status relations.

Detailed Research Agenda

Download the detailed research agenda of Research Area C: Institutions, Norms and Practices here.

Members of Research Area C


Martin Schermaier  Prof. Dr. Martin

 Research Area

Wolfram Kinzig  Prof. Dr.
 Wolfram Kinzig

 Research Area

Anas Ansar  Anas Ansar, M.A.
 Main Affiliation
Christoph Antweiler  Prof. Dr.

 Main Affiliation
Mariana Armond Dias Paes  Dr. Mariana
 Armond Dias

 Main Affiliation
Matthias Becher  Prof. Dr.
 Matthias Becher

 Main Affiliation
Ulrich Berges  Prof. Dr.
 Ulrich Berges

 Main Affiliation
Juelma Da Conceição Gomes De Matos De Ngãla  Juelma Da
 Conceição Gomes
 De Matos De
 Ngãla, M.A.

 Main Affiliation
Christian De Vito  Dr. Christian G.
 De Vito

Thomas Duve  Prof. Dr.
 Thomas Duve

 external Principal
 MPI for European
 Legal History
 Main Affiliation
Maysa Espindola  Maysa
 Souza, M.A.

 Main Affiliation
Adam Fagbore  Adam
 Fagbore, M.A.

 Secondary Affiliation
Katja Girr  Katja Girr, M.A.
Magnus Goffin  Magnus Goffin,
 Mag. iur.

 Main Affiliation
Honey Hammer  Honey Hammer,

 Main Affiliation
 Henriette von Harnier  Henriette von
 Harnier, M.A.

Julia Hegewald  Prof. Dr. Julia
 A. B. Hegewald

Danitza L. Márquez Ramírez  Danitza L.
 Ramírez, M.A.

 Main Affiliation
Stanislav Mohylnyi  Stanislav
 Mohylnyi, M.A.

 Main Affiliation
Jahfar Shareef-Pokkanali  Jahfar Shareef
 M.A. & M.Phil.

 Main Affiliation
Markus Saur  Prof. Dr.
 Markus Saur

 Secondary Affiliation
Winfried Schmitz  Prof. Dr.
 Winfried Schmitz

Christian Schwermann  Prof. Dr. Christian

Peter Schwieger  Prof. Dr. Peter

Rudolf Stichweh  Prof. Dr. Rudolf

 Main Affiliation
Konrad Voessing  Prof. Dr.
 Konrad Vössing

 Secondary Affiliation
Julia Winnebeck  Dr. Julia

 Main Affiliation
Christoph Witzenrath  Prof. Dr.

 Main Affiliation


Research Group "Law and the Creation of Dependency in the Ibero-Atlantic" of Research Area C and its Members

Research Group "Structures of Dependency in the Late Antique and Early Medieval Western Church" of Research Area C and its Members

 Julia Winnebeck  Dr. Julia Winnebeck
 Researcher and Coordinator
 of the Research Group
 Structures of Dependency in the
 Late Antique and Early Medieval
 Western Church

 Research Area C
 Henriette von Harnier  Henriette von Harnier
 Doctoral Researcher
 1543332690215.jpg  David B. Smith
 Doctoral Researcher

Projects and Events


Collaborative Book Project on "Institutions, Norms and Practices"

A collaborative book publication on Institutions, Norms and Practices of Asymmetrical Dependency: Transcultural and Diachronic Perspectives (ideally published in a book series such as "Studies in Global Slavery", Brill, or "Work in Global and Historical Perspective", De Gruyter) will synthesize the research results of this research area.

The volume will contain transculturally and diachronically comparative case studies on the interrelation between competing social institutions, norms and practices of asymmetrical dependencies. Legal historians with expertise on Antiquity could do collaborative research with medievalists and Islamic scholars on the continuing influence of the tradition of Roman law in defining servus/ancilla in later societies. Another contribution to this publication could study the influence of Islamic law for the structuring of asymmetrical power relationships in diverse Asian societies or address the impact of papal decrees and scholastic debates on social practices of slaving in European societies.

A programmatic article published in a well-known Anglophone academic journal (for example "Journal of Global Slavery") will furthermore disseminate the results within international debates on global slavery and asymmetrical dependencies.

Workshops and Seminars

Workshops and seminars of the Research Area C can be found on our events website.

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