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Unfree Labour

Tutor: Shane O'Rourke (tutor for 2017-18) / Henrice Altink

Module type: Comparative Histories

Module Code: HIS00074H

Unfree labour, ranging from apprenticeship and convict labour to serfdom and slavery, has been common across time and place. This module explores some of the main types of unfree labour in a variety of geographical and temporal settings, including ancient Greece, the post-emancipation USA, imperial Russia, and present-day Britain. It will not only test the thesis that capitalist economic expansion led to the disappearance of unfree labour but also evaluate the distinctive characteristics of unfree labour. In particular, the seminars will address such issues as: the legality or illegality of unfree labour; the relationship between the unfree labourer and his employer; the languages of unfree and free labour; the responses to unfree labour, including international treaties and resistance by unfree labourers; and gender differences and labour experiences. But the seminars will also pose more general questions about unfree labour. Why did certain societies prefer unfree to free labour? What is the link between capitalism and unfree labour? And how useful is the distinction between unfree labour and free labour?

Seminar topics are likely to include the following:

  1. Studying Unfree Labour: Definitions and Debates
  2. Serfdom
  3. Slavery
  4. Bounded Labour
  5. Tenant Labour
  6. Convict Labour
  7. Labour Camps
  8. Transnational Migrant Labour
  9. The Unfree and Free Labour Distinction: Method of Analyis or Paralysis?                                  


For more information, please visit the module catalogue.