from free labor to family allowances: labor and African society in colonial discourse


    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


    From the early 19th century, the European debate over the slave trade and slavery pioneered a new international discourse in which the concept of free labor defined a universalistic standard for the conduct of Europeans in colonies and non‐European societies. Implementing free labor, however, entailed a confrontation with the particular work culture and values of local communities, from ex‐slaves to independent peasants. This article examines the connection between imperial powers' critiques of each others' conduct—and the role of international fora in defining imperial morality—and their encounter with African social structures. Colonial states were inextricably drawn into confronting Africans as social beings: first in trying to induce them to become disciplined wage workers, then to contain the conflicts unleashed in places of work and urban residence. By the 1940s, this meant exporting to Africa European approaches to containing class conflict. Colonial cities became less the realm of the colonial expert and more that of the “industrial relations” specialist, who argued against migratory labor and in favor of taking Africans out of their cultural milieu and reproducing their families under the eyes of European welfare experts, even if this implied paying family wages or family allowances that exceeded the free market price of labor. Only with decolonization did France and Britain take themselves out of the social and political intimacy of the workers' milieu and participate in a new—or rather old—international discourse on the moral and social virtue of the free market.[labor, migration, reproduction, slavery, welfare, decolonization] 1989 American Anthropological Association

    Original languageEnglish (US)
    Pages (from-to)745-765
    Number of pages21
    JournalAmerican Ethnologist
    Issue number4
    StatePublished - Nov 1989

    ASJC Scopus subject areas

    • Anthropology


    Dive into the research topics of 'from free labor to family allowances: labor and African society in colonial discourse'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

    Cite this