Volume 54 part 3 (December 2009)


Alessandro Stanziani. Labour Institutions in a Global Perspective, from the Seventeenth to the Twentieth Century
Comparative analyses of labour often assume a dividing line between free and forced labour which is universally applicable. The contributions to this special theme argue that the tensions between "freedom" and "unfreedom" may be identified more precisely as those between multiple notions and practices of contract, status, and social conditions. Free and unfree labour on the one hand, status and contract on the other, are historically determined categories. This introduction argues that those histories do not run in parallel but are strictly intersected. From that point of view, social and economic inequalities are mutually linked to legal entitlements; a modification in legal entitlements strongly influences the economic and social equilibrium, and vice versa. Underlying this conclusion is a perspective that is resolutely non-Eurocentric and global. We do not endeavour to find the "missing" freedom of contract in the "periphery", nor do we consider the "cultural" and economic domination of the "West" as a starting point. We stress instead the mutual connection between "peripheries" and "core" categories and practices. Such a bilateral circulation of ideas and practices contrasts with the argument according to which "the West" invented "freedom" and coercion as well.

Alessandro Stanziani. The Legal Status of Labour in the Seventeen to the Nineteenth Century: Russia in a Comparative European Perspective
Since at least the eighteenth century, free labour in the "West" has been contrasted with serf labour in Russia and "Eastern Europe". This paper intends to call that view into question and to show that serfdom was never officially institutionalized in Russia, and that the regulations usually invoked to justify that opinion were actually intended not to "bind" the peasantry but to identify noble estate owners, as distinct from nobles in state service or the "bourgeoisie". However, it is a matter not only of legal definitions. This paper studies how the tsarist administration, nobles, and peasants themselves made use of courts of law in order to contest ownership titles and, on that basis, the obligations and legal status of peasants and workers. Great changes had occurred in their legal status before the official abolition of serfdom in 1861, in outcomes that were rather similar to those which had been recently achieved in the "second serfdom" in Prussia, Lithuania, and Poland. In turn, that means that such labour contracts and institutions were not the opposites of "free labour" contracts and institutions, which placed many more constraints on workers than is usually acknowledged. To prove the point, we compare tsarist regulations with the Master and Servant Acts and indenture in Britain and its Empire and with French regulations on labour, domesticity, and day labourers.

Henrique Espada Lima. Freedom, Precariousness, and the Law: Freed Persons Contracting Out their Labour in Nineteenth-Century Brazil
This essay discusses the relationship between Brazilian labour laws and the labour arrangements entered into by former slaves (libertos - freed persons) in Brazil during the nineteenth century. It discusses firstly how the definition of "contract' was important in guiding the labour laws on Brazilian national and immigrant workers, as well as on former slaves. By analysing a sample of labour contracts entered into by freed persons and recorded in the archives of notaries in the southern Brazilian city of Desterro (now Florianópolis) between the 1840s and 1887, this essay discusses too the conflicted meanings of "freedom of labour" to freed persons and their employers. It attempts further to show how efforts to deal with precariousness were central to the strategies of freed persons and the negotiations underlying those contracts. Finally, this essay aims to understand the possible reasons for the disappearance of the contracts from notarial records after the end of slavery.

Peter Jones. Finding Captain Swing: Protest, Parish Relations and the State of the Public Mind in 1830
From the 1950s to the 1970s, the study of English popular protest was dominated by the work of Eric Hobsbawm, George Rudé and Edward Thompson, and it is no exaggeration to suggest that their combined approach became the standard against which all subsequent work was judged. It was seminal, innovative and crucial to the emergence of a new 'history from below'. But it was, to a degree, also formulaic: it relied on a trusted framework that historians have since struggled to deviate from. Through a detailed investigation of a set of disturbances in Berkshire, England during the so-called 'Swing riots', this essay seeks to demonstrate that a continued reliance on this model can be seen to have stifled a more nuanced understanding of particular 'moments' of protest in the locality, and in doing so it places a much greater emphasis on local social - and in particular, parochial - relations than has previously been the case. In sum, within the context of late-Hanoverian popular protest, this essay is a plea for a new 'history from within' to supplement the (now venerable) tradition of 'history from below'.

Carl J. Griffin. Swing, Swing Redivivus or Something After Swing? On the Death Throes of a Protest Movement, December 1830 - December 1833
Published in 1969, Hobsbawm and Rudé's Captain Swing remains the sole national account of the so-called 'Swing Riots' that diffused throughout most of rural southern, central and eastern England in the autumn and winter of 1830. Whilst much revisionist work has been published since, Hobsbawm and Rudé's contention that Swing's brutal judicial repression effectively ended the protests has remained essentially unchallenged. Through an archival re-examination of the resort to protest between the 1830 trials and December 1833, this paper contends that the received understanding that Swing was crushed is too simplistic. In some locales, Swing maintained its momentum, in others it revived. Swing also morphed into different forms, both real and phantasmagorical. But the intensity of protests did decline. By the autumn of 1833, protests were less frequent, now representing a fractured, isolated spatiality instead of a coherent protest campaign.