chapter  2
38 Pages

Theorizing Contemporary Enslavement

ByJane Anna Gordon

The chapter delineates core dimensions of enslavement even as it outlines the difficulties of offering a transhistorical or universal definition of the peculiar institution. It then turns to Kevin Bales’s portrait of contemporary enslavement and Orlando Patterson’s supposed challenges to it. Gordon then argues that the uniqueness of enslavement is best understood when explored alongside other forms of slavelike, forced, and waged labor, including that of guest workers in the United States. The chapter also suggests that while framed as post-racial or no longer exclusively a story of white over black, if one accounts for the specificity of the history of post-Communist nations of Eastern Europe and cease to mistake the Atlantic world for the globe, who is enslaved today follows patterns created through histories of colonization and enslavement. Identifying the simultaneity of the ascendance of ideals and values associated with democracy and the exponential growth of what is called “contemporary slavery” or “forced labor,” Gordon contends that understanding this relationship is indispensable to a rigorous grasp of present and future projects of self-governance.