Seminar Series: "Apprenticeship, Penal Servitude, and the Precariousness of Freedom in Nineteenth-Century Brazil"


Friday, April 5, 2019, 12:00pm to 2:00pm


104 Mt. Auburn Street 3R, Seminar Room

Martine Jean: "Apprenticeship, Penal Servitude, and the Precariousness of Freedom in Nineteenth-Century Brazil"

This seminar presents research from my book manuscript entitled Routine Imprisonment: Race and Citizenship in Nineteenth Century Brazil, 1830-1890, which charts the Brazilian government’s imposition of the rule of law using incarceration and involuntary labor as a mean of wrestling penal and administrative control over Rio’s itinerant populations in the nineteenth-century. Tracing the decision to build the Casa de Correção in the global debates about the disciplinary benefits of confinement and the evolution of free labor ideology, the research demonstrates how Brazil’s political elites envisioned adopting the penitentiary to discipline the free working class. While participating in the global debates about the inhumanity of the slave trade, philanthropists and lawmakers of both conservative and liberal strands articulated a nation-building discourse that focused on reforming Brazil’s vagrants into workers in anticipation of slavery’s eventual demise. In the midst of building the Casa de Correção, authorities wrestled with the tentacles of the illegal slave trade, which delivered thousands of new slaves to Brazil in open violation of the nation’s laws and international treaties to curb the traffic. While traffickers traded most of the new slaves into the interior, thousands circulated in Rio and posed a pressing challenge to public order in the slave society. The police considered the presence of illegally enslaved Africans in the urban population dangerous because they were often indistinguishable from runaway slaves and their ubiquitous existence revealed the limit of state authority over the country’s borders. Liberated Africans also added to the unruly class of freedmen whom lawmakers aimed to discipline into workers. The police recuperated thousands of liberated Africans from the streets in its effort to restore the rule of law, namely the 1831 regulation that abolished the traffic to Brazil, and to exert greater control over the city’s wandering populations, which included runaway slaves, beggars, foreign sailors, and so-called vagrants among others. Previous research on the 1831 law emphasized the role of the police in facilitating the ambiguous re-enslavement of liberated Africans. By inserting the significance of confinement in the rich scholarship on liberated Africans, my inquiry highlights the effort of the state to wrestle penal and administrative control over emancipated Africans in a city with a substantial slave and freedmen underclass. As a result, police surveillance on illegally enslaved Africans, I argue, has to be seen as part of a broader politic to regulate, identify, enumerate, and stabilize the city’s slaves, freedmen, foreign sailors and immigrants, as well as vagrants. 

The pre-circulated paper is a chapter entitled “Confinement, Labor, and Citizenship in the Construction of the Casa de Correção.” The analysis probes the construction of the penitentiary between 1834 and 1850 utilizing a mixed labor force consisting of slaves, ‘liberated Africans’, convicts, and waged workers. The Casa de Correção, I demonstrate, became a critical site for the police to regulate the movement of liberated Africans, runaway slaves, and vagrants in Rio, which was Brazil’s capital and its main port of entry for new slaves. After July 1834, the police held emancipated Africans at the Casa de Correção in protective custody and compelled them to build the prison alongside convicts, slaves, and vagrants. I argue that the policy to retrieve liberated Africans, detain runaway slaves, vagrants, freed blacks, and foreign immigrants and to deploy them as workers to build the penitentiary generated entangled identification techniques through which the government acquired ways of seeing and regulating the poor. The study of these records reveals them as critical sites to examine the making of citizenship and Brazilian statecraft decades before the elaboration of the 1872 national census, which provided authorities with extensive knowledge on the socio-cultural, ethnic, and educational make-up of the population. 


martine_jean_poster.pdf141 KB