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The Absence of Freedom

Debt, Bondage and Desire among Pakistani Brick Kiln Workers

Antonio De Lauri

Central and South Asian brick kilns have long attracted the attention of both humanitarian agencies and scholars as sites of slavery-like forms of labor exploitation. They represent both an important case study for investigating the systems of dependence and debt-relationships that characterize Southern Asian capitalism, and a big challenge to creating sustainable, international standards for human labor. One aspect largely overlooked in the literature concerns the ideas of freedom that emerge in situations of bondage. Based on ethnographic research conducted in brick kilns in the areas of Gujrat, Islamabad and Rawalpindi in 2015 and 2016, my analysis focuses on workers’ narratives and their perceptions of freedom and its absence.