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Abstract

The dissertation argues that the family became an essential site for the construction of a new social order during the transition from slavery to freedom in nineteenth-century Martinique and Guadeloupe. It examines how enslaved and freed persons, colonial authorities, and metropolitan abolitionists perceived and contested slavery and emancipation in the French Antilles through family politics. Family politics is defined as policies regarding and practices of intimacy, love, and power within networks of kinship, co-residence, parentage, and marriage. The dissertation argues that enslaved and freed persons, colonial elites, and metropolitan abolitionists all mobilized family politics to try to fashion a political and social order before and after the collapse of slavery. For French abolitionist reformers and colonial elites, family politics fundamentally functioned as a tool of moralization and domination that they employed in order to continue expropriating black workers after the abolition of slavery. The family politics of metropolitan reformers and colonial elites prioritized controlling the labor of black colonial subjects—which in turn gave rise to the rigid, gendered, and racialist hierarchies that structured the late-nineteenth-century French Antilles. The dissertation’s emphasis on family politics also highlights the ways in which enslaved and freed persons (particularly women) challenged the colonial system. During slavery and the post-emancipation era, enslaved and freed persons created and maintained their own family politics that both adapted to and competed with the norms that reformers and colonial elites dictated. The alternative social and cultural family institutions that enslaved and freed peoples created over the course of the nineteenth century thus served as survival strategies, as the means of establishing autonomy, and as spaces from which they could counteract the continued exploitation of their labor during slavery and the post-emancipation era.

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