Research Area C: Institutions, Norms, and Practices

The Research Area C studies forms of asymmetrical dependency produced at the crossroads of conflicting institutions, norms, and practices. Their interaction must be conceived as a two-way movement: top-down, i.e., from institutions to practices (for example, when institutions create norms that are – or are not – implemented into practices), and bottom-up (for example, when practices produce norms and these become ‘institutionalized’).

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.

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Dr. Julia Winnebeck

Who works in this research area?

Prof. Dr. Christoph Antweiler
Research Topic: Workflows in Southeast Asia. Spatial Continuities and Breaks in Migration-related Labor Relations from Early Modern Dynamics to Current Embeddedness

Prof. Dr. Matthias Becher
Research Topic: Between ‘Freedom’ and ‘Unfreedom’. Changes in Frankish Society in the Early Middle Ages

Prof. Dr. Ulrich Berges
Research Topic: Beyond Slavery and Freedom in the Old Testament/Hebrew Bible

Prof. Dr. Thomas Duve
Research Topic: Regimes of Asymmetrical Dependency in the Colonial Ibero-Atlantic: Legal Historical Perspectives

Prof. Dr. Wolfram Kinzig
Research Topic: Establishment and Transformation of Asymmetrical Dependencies through Normative Processes in the Late-antique and Early Medieval Western Church (4th-8th centuries)

Prof. Dr. Martin Schermaier
Research Topic: Forms of Asymmetrical Dependency and its Legal Classification in Late Medieval and Early Modern Europe (1350-1750)

Prof. Dr. Rudolf Stichweh
Research Topic: Towards a Sociology of Asymmetrical Dependencies: The Formation of a National, (Post)colonial Society on the Example of Brazil (1526-2020)

Prof. Dr. Konrad Vössing      
Research Topic: Asymmetrical Dependency, Agriculture and Militia in the Last Centuries of the Western Roman Empire

Prof. Dr. Christoph Witzenrath
Research Topic: The influence of nomadic-settled relations and the slave trade on social dependency and political representation in the Eurasian steppe

PD Dr. Dorothea Heuschert-Laage
Research Topic: Forms of asymmetrical dependency in Qing dynasty Mongolia (1636-1911): Human dowry, domestic slaves and transactions in people

Prof. Dr. Christian Hornung
Research Topic: Dependency and Dependencies in the History of Ancient Christianity

Prof. Dr. Jochen Sautermeister
Research Topic: Fundamental Theological Ethics, Theological-Ethical Theory of the Moral Subject

Dr. Veruschka Wagner
Research Topic: Agency and mobility of slaves from the Black Sea Region in Istanbul in the 17th century

Prof. Dr. Christian Blumenthal  
Research Topic: Konstruktionen starker asymmetrischer Abhängigkeiten im Neuen Testament. Funktions- und Gefahrenanalyse „lebendiger“ Texte.

Prof. Dr. Jan Dietrich  
Research Topic: The emergence of the idea of the legal person in, by and through relationships of strong dependencies in the ancient Near East and archaic Greece.

                            The emergence of cultural identity in ancient Israel and Greece in, by and through strong cultural dependencies over against the Persian empire.

Dr. Mariana Armond Dias Paes
Research Topic: An Ocean of Norms: Dependency and Property in the Lusophone South Atlantic (1780s–1880s)

Dr. Raquel R. Sirotti
Research Topic: Producing modus vivendi: labor, punishment, and governance under the rule of the Nyassa Charter Company (Mozambique, 1891-1929)

Dr. Julia Winnebeck
Research Topic: Structures of Asymmetrical Dependencies within the Late Antique and Early Medieval Church

Turkana Allahverdiyeva
Research Topic: Non-elite Household Slavery in Crimean Khanate in 1700-1720

Juelma Da Conceição Gomes De Matos De Ngãla
Research Topic: A Transformação da Escravidão em Angola, Dependência e Categorias Sociais, do séc. XVI ao séc. XIX

Maysa Espíndola Souza
Research Topic: Between Roças and Palhotas: The Colonial Explotation in Portuguese Africa, 1850–1930

Magnus Goffin
Research Topic: Extrema necessitate – Kinder- und Selbstverkauf in Notlagen

Henriette von Harnier
Research Topic: Dependent Groups in Late Antique and Early Medieval Penitentials

Stanislav Mohylnyi
Research Topic: The The Factors of Subjugation: Creating Bonded Relationships in the Hetmanate and Sloboda Ukraine at the End of the Seventeenth and in the Eighteenth Centuries

David Ponwitz
Research Topic: Asymmetrical Dependency in Early Merovingian Gaul - a Pluralistic Perspective on Early Medieval Normativity

David B. Smith
Research Topic: Homosexuality and Perceptions of Masculinity in the Penitentials and Ecclesial Law


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.

What we do

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.


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

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.

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