Analyzing Freedom from the Shadows of Slavery

in Journal of Global Slavery
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Philosophical treatments of core value concepts often abstract from the troubled history and fractured present of the societies to which those concepts are meant to apply. In the case of the political tradition of liberal democratic thought, stretching from the social contract theories of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries up through contemporary writers, the notion of individual freedom or liberty is central. However, often that idea, and the assumption of its foundational value for persons, is specified from the perspective of those who enjoy it rather than those struggling to attain it. Moreover, the social spaces that theories of justice that locate freedom as a central value have continue to bracket out of existence the patterns of enslavement, oppression and domination that mark all social spaces. This article attempts a reappraisal of certain dominant understandings of the idea of freedom in both historical and contemporary philosophical discourse in light of this alteration of perspective. Specifically, the current practices of coercive labor, trafficking, irregular labor migration, and other forms of “marginal” social lives are brought into focus in order to guide this reappraisal. The article argues that if we assess these conditions as modes of unfreedom then we must utilize an account of freedom that diverges significantly from those dominant notions. A sketch of this alternative, positive, conception of freedom is then offered.




See Orlando Patterson, Freedom. Volume 1: Freedom in the Making of Western Culture (New York: Basic Books, 1991).


Philip Pettit, Republicanism (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999).


See Quentin Skinner, Liberty Before Liberalism (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998).


See Ian Carter, A Measure of Freedom (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999) and Matthew Kramer, The Quality of Freedom (Oxford: Oxford University, 2003).


Kramer, Quality, 15. This is the core of Kramer’s view, whose details are discussed at length in his book.


See Rhacel Parreñas, “The Indentured Mobility of Migrant Women: How Gendered Protectionist Laws Lead Filipina Hostesses to Forced Sexual Labor,” Journal of Workplace Rights 25, nos. 3–4 (2010–2011): 327–339, for skepticism about such labeling.


See Jaqueline Bhabha and Monette Zard, “Smuggled or Trafficked,” Forced Migration Review 25 (May 2006): 6–8.


Haque, “Ambiguities and Confusions,” 10–11.


See Susanne Daley, “In Spain, Women Enslaved by a Boom in Brothel Tourism,” New York Times, 7 Apr. 2012.


See, e.g., Kristjan Kristjánsson, Social Freedom: The Responsibility View (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996) and Chandran Kukathas, “Defending Negative Liberty,” Policy 10, no. 2 (Winter 1994): 22–26.


See Carter, Measure, 56–58. For an overview see Ingrid Robeyns, “The Capabilities Approach,” Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy ( 2011.


See, e.g., Kukathas, “Defending Negative Liberty,” 24.


Cf. Carol Gould, Rethinking Democracy: Freedom and Social Cooperation in Politics, Economy and Society (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1988), ch. 1.


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