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Evans-Pritchard Lectures - Slavery and Emancipation in Twentieth Century Africa



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Dr Benedetta Rossi

Dr Benedetta Rossi, Department of African Studies and Anthropology, University of Birmingham

In these lectures the process of emancipation from slavery in twentieth century Africa will be explored from an anthropological and historical perspective.The lectures will shift the research focus away from the ‘end of slavery’ and towards the lived experience of emancipation. Analytically, this shift of focus has two consequences. First, it revisits critically the teleological assumption that in Africa the end of slavery is an inevitable, if sometimes slow, consequence of legal abolition. Second, it forces us to rethink conventional periodizations that see African emancipation as paced primarily by the stages of European and international abolitionism. Externally driven abolitionism did not always function as an enabling factor for African emancipation. It went hand-in-hand with the introduction of new forms of un-free labour and the tolerance for various forms of conjugal and sexual slavery concealed under the label of ‘native marriage’. Factors other than colonial law and postcolonial international law have been influencing the tension between resilient hierarchies and declining slavery throughout the twentieth century.

For over ten years Dr Rossi has been exploring these issues through fieldwork, archival research in Europe and Africa, and collaborations with African grassroots activists and researchers specializing in African slavery and emancipation.

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