Slavery Old and New: 2016 – 2017

The Tubman Institute, in collaboration with the Institute of Comparative Law and the Hans & Tamar Oppenheimer Chair in Public International Law at McGill University, is pleased to present this seminar series, Slavery old and new: Labour exploitation through the ages and around the globe. This joint research initiative examines the legal conceptualization of labour exploitation. Through an interdisciplinary, transnational and historical methodology, this project will draw on a variety of disciplines, spaces in time, and places around the world, to explore law’s understanding of “labour exploitation” and its relationship to society and practices.

May 30, 2017
Presenter: Marta Scaglioni


Moving from the recent political and social unrests triggered by the self-immolation of twenty-six-year-old Mohamed Bouazizi in Tunisia, an embryonic yet sustained social struggle for the defence of Blacks’ rights emerged, petitioning for the empowerment of Black Tunisians and for the introduction of a hate crime sanctioning racist attacks and insults. In spite of the representation of Black Tunisians as an homogenous phenotype-based category, however, historically differentiated paths behind each actor challenge the essentialist notion of ‘black’ that underlies the activists’ discussion. I engage with recent sub-Saharan economic migrants, long-term rural ‘blacks’ of slave origin, and contemporary (mostly urban) anti-racism activists, highlighting their historical trajectories and today’s discourses.


Marta Scaglioni holds a research position at the University of Milan-Bicocca (Italy) and is currently a PhD Candidate at the University of Bayreuth (Germany). Her research, funded by ERC-Grant 313737 SWAB “Shadows of slavery in West Africa and beyond. An historical anthropology”, tackles slavery and its heritage in Tunisia, especially regarding Blacks’ rights activists and communities of slave descendants.


October 12, 2016
Presenter: Dr. Clare Oxby


“Powers over People: legacies of “slavery” in Central Niger? (Tuareg)” explores the usefulness of the concept of “slavery” in understanding Tuareg society in Central Niger over the last few decades. She begins with the definitions contained in the UK Modern Slavery Act 2015 and the previous documents referred to in this Act. This leads her to differentiate between the various powers over people associated with slavery: powers around the recruitment of slaves; around labour and other forms of exploitation of slaves; and around the transmission of slave status down the generations. She then tests three bodies of data in relation to these powers: her 1970s doctoral data; evidence contained in a 2002 publication by a Nigerien anti-slavery association; and impressions from her follow-up visits to 2010. She concludes by weighing up arguments for and against using the concept of slavery in relation to contemporary Nigerien data, and she welcomes discussion and feedback on this topic.


Clare Oxby is a Social Anthropologist educated at the universities of Cambridge and London (PhD School of Oriental and African Studies); she was brought up in Paris and is bilingual in English and French. She spent a formative year living with Tuareg nomadic camel herders in Niger in preparation for her doctoral thesis on status and gender differentiation in Tuareg society.

Her career has spanned the aid / development and academic worlds:

  •  she has worked for a range of aid and development agencies, in particular the UN Food and Agriculture Organization in Rome, on pastoralist and shifting cultivator livelihoods: this work has taken her to many countries across West, Central and East Africa, also to Madagascar, Sri Lanka and Indonesia.
  • she has taught Social Anthropology at the universities of Sussex and Oxford (UK), Perugia (Italy), and most recently at the Institute of Social Anthropology in Bern (Switzerland), where she is currently Research Associate.