August 25, 2016

Michelle McKinley On Fractional Freedoms

Professor Michelle McKinley, the Bernard B. Kliks Associate Professor of Law at the University of Oregon School of Law, discusses her forthcoming book Fractional Freedoms: Slavery, Intimacy, and Legal Mobilization in Colonial Lima, 1600-1700 (Cambridge University Press, September 2016). The book explores slavery and what Professor McKinley terms “fractional freedoms” in the context of colonial Peru.

An edited transcript of the video follows:

My book is about early modern slavery–particularly Hispanic, urban slavery. You know, so much of our knowledge about slavery has been rural, plantation, certainly nineteenth century, so I wanted to focus on the early modern period, I wanted to focus on urban slavery, especially as slavery was being transported—it was in its demise in Iberia, on the peninsula—and it was getting reformulated as it came to the Americas. So that’s the period that I think about.

Very early on, what I did was I coined this term “fractional freedoms,” because my point in the book is that–really what happens—is that there is neither totally bondage nor absolute autonomy, especially not in an early modern world. People live in these very very intertwined communities. They’re never…so, really, all people can aspire to is fractional freedom: contingent liberty. I argue that there are multigenerational dependencies and those kinds of relationships that really bind people—even once they’re legally freed—still to their owners, and their owners are also bound to them.

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