Chapter

Introduction

Alex Lichtenstein

in Workers Across the Americas

Published in print February 2011 | ISBN: 9780199731633
Published online May 2011 | e-ISBN: 9780199894420 | DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199731633.003.0007
Introduction

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  • Early Modern History (1500 to 1700)

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Between the seventeenth and twentieth centuries, rapid capitalist accumulation depended heavily on the efficient transfer of workers across enormous distances and far-flung imperial domains. Whether voluntary, coerced, or something in between like indenture, much of this extraordinary traffic of labor power around the globe was organized by imperial networks and expanding cross-border state and corporate entities. Yet labor historians, despite recent efforts to write in a “transnational” mode, have yet to fully develop analytical paradigms that sufficiently take into account the peculiar dynamics of empire and colonialism as a broader category of analysis. The three chapters in this section, while rooted in distinctive times and places, offer a glimpse of what such a “labor and empire” paradigm might look like. First, imperial labor forms seem to be inherently hybrid in character, making a poor fit with rigid analytical categories of relations of production or expropriation. Moreover, the multiplicity of forms of imperial labor exploitation demonstrates the inherent instability of the traditional contrast—and alleged teleology—of unfree and free labor. Finally, these chapters suggest, when imperial laborers engaged in struggle, they forced to the surface tensions and contradictions within and beyond the borders of imperial states and systems.

Keywords: empire; unfree labor; indentured labor; colonialism

Chapter.  3445 words. 

Subjects: Early Modern History (1500 to 1700)

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