Orlando patterson slavery and social death pdf

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orlando patterson slavery and social death pdf

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As the articles in this issue demonstrate, the concepts and theories introduced by Patterson are still vital.

Slavery and Social Death: A Comparative Study.

By Orlando Patterson. As David Brion Davis has shown in his classic study The Problem of Slavery in Western Culture , slavery has from ancient times been a moral as well as a historical problem. Indeed, one of the most remarkable features of Western civilization is the critical role of slavery at almost all the high points of its development, from ancient Greece to the rise of industrial capitalism. I grew up in Clarendon, a part of colonial Jamaica where the ubiquitous sugar plantations glowered like dulotic fields of memory.

Slavery lingered, too, in language: as children we described the dreaded postholiday return to school and its whip-happy teachers as our free paper burn, a reference to the manumission certificate of freed slaves.

My very first original work was a study of the Morant Bay rebellion of by the emancipated slaves of Jamaica twenty-seven years after abolition. This awareness carried over to the organization of public intellectuals we eventually formed, the New World Group. It was thus a foregone conclusion that my doctoral thesis in sociology at the London School of Economics would be a study of slavery in Jamaica.

Three prior works prepared me for the research and writing of Slavery and Social Death. My first academic work, The Sociology of Slavery: An Analysis of the Origins, Development, and Structure of Negro Slave Society in Jamaica , the published version of my thesis, based on three years of work in the British and Jamaican archives, was my intensive historical fieldwork into the nature, dynamics, and particularities of slavery and the slave experience.

This was followed by my second major project, Slavery and Slave Revolts: A Socio-Historical Analysis of the First Maroon War, —, the first detailed study of a series of slave rebellions after the British capture of the island that culminated, remarkably, in the British suing for peace.

The third work that prepared me for the writing of Slavery and Social Death was my third novel, Die the Long Day , set in eighteenth-century Jamaica. Through fiction I relived the experiences, thoughts, and feelings of Jamaican slaves just as Toni Morrison and other neoslavery novelists would later do with American slaves. Although some critics have felt that the phrase social death is too abstract, I believe that it captures, in a real and immediate way, the nature of human suffering and brutalization that slaves experienced.

But for those who are unconvinced, let me help by drawing on recent work in social psychology to spell out what it all means in human terms. The eminent psychologist Susan Fiske draws on her own and decades of research in social psychology to show that being human means having five core social motives that are essential for psychological and social functioning.

The most fundamental of these is the need to belong—within relationships, to kinfolk, and to groups with whom one has strong, stable ties. So powerful is this drive that in Nazi Germany some Jews passing as Aryans felt the urge to reveal their identity, facing certain death as a result of the need to belong to the Jews.

The social death of slavery was a prolonged assault on every one of these elementary human needs. Social death did not destroy them, to be sure, for to do so would be to induce insanity and possibly real death, and an insane or dead slave was a useless one. Rather, it hung like the sword of Damocles over the head of every slave who ever lived.

Because a slave was human, she wanted desperately to belong to her parents, her kinfolk, and through them to her ancestors; she wanted her children to belong to her, and she wanted those ties to be secure and strong.

But all ties were precarious. Her child could be taken away at any moment; so could her lover or permitted husband, her mother, her grandparents, every one of her relatives. It did not matter if this calamitous disruption happened once a week, once a month, or once a year, as the cliometricians, those sharp-eyed accountants of social death, love to calculate. The fact of its possibility was experienced as an ever-present sense of impending doom that shadowed everything, every thought, every moment of her existence.

This is the essence of natal alienation, which, in addition to its crushing psychological impact for every individual slave, also entailed their inability as a group to freely integrate the experience of their ancestors into their lives, to inform their understanding of social reality with the inherited meanings of their natural forebears, or to anchor the living present in any conscious community of memory.

Frederick Douglass eloquently documented the utter powerlessness of the slaves to decide their own destiny. The claim, made by some commentators, that social death implied that slaves had no social relations, no community, is puzzling and indicates that such critics have simply not read my works with due care.

The tragedy of trust under social death has been the most underestimated impact of slavery and the one that perhaps has had the longest afterlife beyond the legal abolition of the institution.

No slave in her right mind could ever come to trust or truly believe in the basic human decency of the slaveholder or his community or the broader political and institutional structures that sanctioned and legitimated her enslavement. This is what Douglass vividly described as the deceptive character of slavery. Every slave knew that, to survive emotionally and physically, she sometimes had to make choices that betrayed her relations with others.

This slowly and corrosively undermined all interactions, especially those between men and women. The loss of trust is true of all people who suffer traumatic experiences under those who control the reins of power and legitimacy. But I realise that loss of faith in people is more devastating than loss of faith in God. Today black Americans are by far the least trusting group of Americans: only 17 percent of them say that other people can be trusted, compared with 45 percent of whites, a remarkable gap that remains even after class, age, and marital status are taken into account.

This corrosive lineament of slavery has been independently confirmed in Africa as well: a study by two economic historians shows that Africans whose ancestors were heavily raided in the transatlantic and Indian Ocean slave trades are significantly less trusting today than other Africans, that the relation is causal, and that the impact of the slave trade and slavery is mediated through internalized cultural norms, beliefs, and values.

We do not have to infer these devastating psychological effects of slavery from the historical evidence because there has been a profound resurgence of human trafficking, modern-day slavery, and other forms of servitude since the s. The International Labor Office estimates that in , The ultimate goal in this, writes psychologist Judith Herman, is to destroy the autonomy of the victim and to induce as far as possible a state of willing submission.

This may require the intentional induction of altered states of consciousness and the development of dissociated ego states in which the enslaved person is given a new name and a new identity as a whore.

The study concluded that, existing in a state of social death, the prostitute is an outsider who is seen as having no honor or public worth.

Those in prostitution, like slaves and concentration camp prisoners, may lose their identities as individuals, becoming primarily what masters, Nazis or customers want them to be. It was initially well received by sociologists and in was honored with the highest prize then awarded by the discipline. First, my focus was on the relational and institutional levels of sociocultural structures and change. Murdock and his school of cross-cultural research, and, within slave studies, the classic works of comparative slavery by Herman Nieboer, Moses Finley, and David Brion Davis.

Instead of looking at a small number of whole societies, as the macrosociologists were doing, I used the sample of world cultures developed by Murdock and a nested sample of large-scale slave societies. And instead of relying solely on interpretive techniques, I used both qualitative and statistical methods, especially the newly developed statistical technique of log-linear modeling, which is used for the analysis of categorical variables.

Second, my focus on culture was at variance with developments in historical sociology which, until recently, virtually discarded this foundational construct of the discipline.

While sharing the critique of earlier cultural determinism, Slavery and Social Death , like all my other works, is predicated on the theory of the interaction of social and cultural forces as the fundamental dynamic of human action at all levels of sociation, as I have recently explained at some length.

Finally, unlike most other historical sociologists, I relied on interdisciplinary theoretical and analytic strategies that drew heavily from social, cultural, and symbolic anthropology, social psychology, and the study of European classical antiquity. The techniques of the Annales School of French historical scholarship, especially that of its cofounder, Marc Bloch, were also very influential to my approach. In good part because of this interdisciplinary orientation, the work quickly crossed over into fields beyond historical sociology: both specialist and comparative history, especially classical European studies, history of religion, genocide studies, philosophy, feminist theory, gender studies, literary and cultural studies, incarceration and prison studies, social theory, law, religion, African American studies, Caribbean studies, and various public intellectual projects.

I make no attempt to summarize the use of Slavery and Social Death in all these varied fields, but I will briefly comment on a few areas of scholarship that I find of special interest. First, and most important, the work has found a place in the study of slavery throughout the world, in ancient, medieval, and modern times. The classical historian Peter Hunt notes that the work has prompted historians to see slavery as a common practice throughout the world and ages, and Kyle Harper suggests that it has drawn special attention to the importance of women in the history of slavery and freedom, calling into question the assertion of some scholars that I have underplayed the role of gender in my studies of slavery.

I found this a productive challenge. My response led me to a deep immersion into the concept of property and to what legal theorists have referred to as its fragmentation.

I have directly engaged with this development in my book Freedom in the Making of Western Culture and other works. In the study of modern Atlantic history, Slavery and Social Death has been influential in the approach of many historians to the subject and in debates concerning the nature of the slave condition, as well as the responses of the enslaved to the varying contexts of their enslavement.

Another scholar avoiding this fictitious binary, Simon Gikandi, explores the generative paradoxes of slavery in underpinning both the culture of refined, bourgeois taste and ideals of freedom and individualism among the slaveholder classes of the Atlantic, especially Britain, as well as cultural production among the slaves in the face of their unsparing social death. What comes into view instead are the inner workings of power and violence. Some historians claim that social death was mere slaveholder ideology that posed only a challenge or predicament for slaves against which they nobly resisted.

The reader only has to peruse the first few pages of Slavery and Social Death to realize how specious this assertion is. Social death was indeed slaveholder ideology, but as I repeatedly argued both in my previous work on Jamaican slavery and in Slavery and Social Death , slaves did not internalize this ideology; rather, they saw through it.

Social death was not a theory I imposed upon the historical realities of slavery. In the course of human history slaves did indeed culturally create in ways that changed the world, out of the existential yearning to undo their social death.

Their great achievement was the invention and valorization of freedom. It was, though, a joint, dialectical construction, born out of subaltern dread and dominative necessity. The institutional process of manumission, discussed at great length in the work, was in essence the struggle of the slave with the slaveholder for the undoing, the undying, of the relationship, one which slaveholders often found in their best interest to concede. Forbearance and release, not revolution; the desire to incentivize and maximize the gains of domination and power, not any noble act of generosity, were what drove this cultural invention.

While this happened wherever slavery existed, only in the West did this creation of the dominated and dominator, the degraded and the violator, paradoxically triumph as the central value of the civilization. Another historian, Joseph Miller, focuses more on methodological and epistemological issues in his lively, critical engagement with Slavery and Social Death , taking aim at my comparative approach, which he claims neglects subjective meaning, context, and the exquisite particularities of the past good in favor of generalizations and the search for truth, which is probably fleeting and significantly rhetorical very bad.

This full-throttle historicism which nearly outranks Ranke is an attack not just on Slavery and Social Death but on nearly all social science, all social and economic history, and a good deal of contemporary professional historical scholarship. I have no great love for grand theories of history or society which is partly why I parted company with other historical sociologists , being fully aware of the heterogeneity, complexity, and contingency of human life.

But as the philosopher Daniel Little has well argued, such reservations are entirely consistent with the search for quasi-empirical theories of concrete social mechanisms and the discovery of modest generalizations about similar processes that recur in a variety of circumstances and historical settings. Not only are the generalizations of comparative work consistent with the particularities of context-specific analyses, but the two approaches often complement and enhance each other.

Comparative findings, for example, often uncover what is unique about a given practice and, as such, point the case-oriented historian to the significance of certain elements of the context that may have simply been taken for granted.

You cannot know what is truly particular without some idea of what is general. A well-known example of this is the problematic use of the US South as the paradigmatic slave society by many American historians. It took comparative scholarship to reveal the unusual nature of slavery in the Southern United States, such as its rigid prohibition on manumission. They result from conflicting interests and political power, and no serious modern scholar of institutions now regards them as static, functionalist outcomes frozen in time.

Beyond historical studies proper, Slavery and Social Death has come to occupy a central place in Holocaust and more general genocide studies. In contrast with Goldhagen, Claudia Card, one of the leading philosophers of genocide studies and of the problem of evil, has argued that social death is utterly central to the evil of genocide, not just when a genocide is primarily cultural but even when it is homicidal on a massive scale.

It is social death that enables us to distinguish the peculiar evil of genocide from the evils of other mass murders. Social vitality exists through relationships, contemporary and intergenerational, that create an identity that gives meaning to life. Putting social death at the center takes the focus off individual choice, individual goals, and individual careers, and body counts, and puts it on relationships that create community and set the context that gives meaning to choices and goals.

Thus Card finds the term cultural genocide both redundant and misleading since social death is present in all genocides and implies that some genocides do not include cultural death. Analogous to its use in the study of genocide and evil are the uses of social death in studies of prisons and mass incarceration in America. Thus Joshua Price finds the uprooting of prisoners from kin groups, other loved ones, and their communities; their isolation and exposure to bodily and sexual violence; and their degradation akin to social death, as does Lisa Guenther, who views solitary confinement as nothing short of a living death.

Slavery and Social Death has also proven valuable in literary and cultural studies, especially feminist philosophy. Both applications of the concept of social death are related to the idea of livability that has become central to her more recent thought.

Several students of literature have used the concept of social death in their interpretation of major texts, especially those studying African American authors and authors of the broader black Atlantic.

This is part of a wider turn toward the trauma of the slave past in both the writing of fiction, especially the neoslave novel, and its interpretation. Two scholars from cultural studies have written among the most balanced accounts of my work, showing how Slavery and Social Death is situated in, and informed by, my other writings. The distinguished anthropologist and cultural theorist David Scott has edited a journal-length interview that comes closest to an intellectual biography.

Finally, there is the group of mainly humanist intellectuals who constitute a movement known as Afropessimism. Furthermore, antiblack racism, they claim, differs from other forms of ethnoracial prejudice; the fundamental racial binary is black-nonblack, and the term people of color is rejected because of its failure to recognize the persisting effects of social death for black people.

Slavery and social death : a comparative study

Richard Hellie, Orlando Patterson. Cambridge: Harvard University Press. Most users should sign in with their email address. If you originally registered with a username please use that to sign in. To purchase short term access, please sign in to your Oxford Academic account above. Don't already have an Oxford Academic account? Oxford University Press is a department of the University of Oxford.

Slavery and social death: a comparative study. Patterson, Orlando, © Harvard University Press. •.

Slavery and Social Death: A Comparative Study, With a New Preface

This is the first full-scale comparative study of the nature of slavery. In a work of prodigious scholarship and enormous breadth, which draws on the tribal, ancient, premodern, and modern worlds, Orlando Patterson discusses the internal dynamics of slavery in 66 societies over time. Slavery is shown to be a parasitic relationship between master and slave, invariably entailing the violent domination of a natally alienated, or socially dead, person.

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By Orlando Patterson. As David Brion Davis has shown in his classic study The Problem of Slavery in Western Culture , slavery has from ancient times been a moral as well as a historical problem.


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