Abstract

This article provides a critical evaluation of the trope of "agency" in the New Social History scholarship on slavery. It argues that the idea of a non-variagated slave "agency" smuggles a liberal notion of subjectivity into the heart of the scholarship of slavery, which has led many scholars to confuse the categories of slaves' humanity, (liberal) agency, and resistance to slavery. It suggests more attention to the material and cultural determinations of slaves' lives, to the condition of enslaved humanity and to the everyday processes of political action among the enslaved as alternative approaches. Finally, it argues that the injunction to "give the slaves back their agency" was a scholarly call to arms which was meaningful at the moment in which the New Social History emerged, but which has now lost its political salience and suggests that if historians are to continue to frame their scholarship as an act of historical redress, they should do so in terms more suited to the current circumstances.

Additional Information

ISSN
1527-1897
Print ISSN
0022-4529
Pages
pp. 113-124
Launched on MUSE
2003-09-05
Open Access
No
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