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Join us for a very special speaker event that we’re hosting in collaboration with the Department of Political Science. Dr. Robbie Shilliam, a professor of political science at Johns Hopkins University and a specialist on race and colonialism in global context, will give a talk titled: Free Labor / Freed Labor: The Case for an Abolition Political Economy. This talk will take on September 30 at 2:30pm at Wilson Hall’s community room (LRW 103).

Dr. Shilliam provided the following abstract. See you all there!



Might Black Lives Matter have an intellectual as well as an activist purchase for the field of political economy? Few political economists outside the Black Radical tradition have taken up this challenge in detail. In this respect, the work of Angela Davis, which has always been central to Black Lives movements, might prove instructive for the field. In critiquing criminal justice systems, Davis has regularly drawn upon WEB Du Bois’s conception of “abolition-democracy”, especially his recognition that legal manumission historically required the building of alternative institutions to substantiate freedoms: abolition exceeded legality and flowed necessarily into political, economic and social dimensions. Building on Davis’s Duboisian intervention, I want to present a case for “abolition political economy”. I demonstrate the salience of this approach by turning to classical political economy. Received wisdom treats this tradition’s problematization of labor primarily in terms of a “free” status – that is, as contractually independent, waged and/or proletarianized. However, I argue that “freed” labor  – the prospective abolition of slavery – was a more fundamental intellectual and political fault-line in the eighteen century rise of capitalism than the regulation of “free” labor. Using Adam Smith’s discussions on labor and its “liberal reward” under “commercial society” as my framing device, I examine how, in struggles between the British crown, parliament and fractions of imperial capital, the prospect of abolition challenged the existing patriarchal compact wherein inherited property rights were buoyed by legal regimes that coded labor as a master/servant relation. Ultimately, I suggest that a realignment of the heritage of classical political economy to account for its entanglements in abolition affirms the necessity to bring the work of Davis and the hieroglyph of “Black lives” into the center-ground of political economy. 

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Date(s) - September 30, 2019
2:30 pm - 4:00 pm

LRW 103 (Community Room)


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