Thursday, January 3, 2019: 3:30 PM
Wabash Room (Palmer House Hilton)
The language of desertion was common in French colonial administrative discourse and referred to all manner of subject during the 18th century—soldiers, slaves, servants, wives. This talk explores the making and consequences of indistinction, elisions of social identities in the early-modern French imperial context. While the focus here is Guyane, the arguments would be incomplete if they neglected parallel practices in metropolitan France, in port cities and Paris, and even in limitrophe states, as recent scholarly work and the colonial and diplomatic archives reveal. Irrespective of their legality, social distinctions inscribed in bills of sale and contracts were far from self-evident in everyday practice. Around labor, punishment, and expectations of loyalty, the administrative and judicial languages of the powerful could be remarkably similar – both in conviction and uncertainty. Through myriad forms of abandonment, subjects, for their part, qualified and realigned the human and political geographies of betrayal. Reading Guyane’s colonial administrative correspondence longitudinally, events of fugitivity and border-crossing incited localized challenges to the principles of and paths to extrication and freedom, extradition and reincorporation. By shifting orientation from the historiographical dialectic that situates state accumulations of power and legitimacy in productive tension with subjects’ resistance, this research seeks to recover the affective bonds and breaks that formed early-modern subjectivity before it was enmeshed in the politicizing events at end of century.
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