Call for Abstracts—Southwest Historical Quarterly Special Issue “The Persistence of Forced Labor in the Southwest, 1865-2000”

 

The Southwestern Historical Quarterly is seeking expressions of interest to submit articles to a special issue on coerced labor, forced labor, and slaveries in the Southwest in the period between 1865 and 2000. The Southwest is defined as the border states of the United States west of the Mississippi. Sitting at the crossroads of empires, nation states, and migration streams, the American Southwest has long been a site of labor exploitation, and it continues to be a home to modern slavery. Since the 2000 passage of the Trafficking victims Protection Act and the formation and adoption of the United Nations’ Palermo Protocol, human trafficking and modern slavery has captured the attention of human rights activists, academics, jurists, labor organizers, and many others. Reports that the number of people caught in conditions of modern slavery continue to rise, as do the types of interventions to fight modern slavery. At the same time scholars of contemporary trafficking note that trafficking correlates to immigration restriction. Consequently, the Borderlands of the Southwest provide a fertile ground for interrogating the history of modern slavery. This special issue seeks to take the global phenomenon of modern slavery and trafficking, and ground it in the Southwest, considering the ways that labor migration, immigration restriction, border violence, and economic inequality combine to produce the soil that can give rise to modern slavery.


We are especially interested in work that:

  • Engages critically with the historical production of categories such as “peonage,” “forced labor,” “slavery,” and migratory “illegality” as they have pertained to the Southwest.
  • Examines ways border control regimes produced or exacerbated new vulnerabilities.
  • Explores the historical lived experience of forced labor in public and private institutions (such as reformatories, detention centers, prisons) in the Southwest.
  • Places trafficking and forced labor within a wider discourse of indenture, slavery and un-freedom; as well as imperialism, mobility, and globalization, while showcasing the ways these dynamics played out in the Southwest.
  • Explores how vulnerability, co-ethnic exploitation and solidarity, or disability, age and/or sexuality can serve as catalysing factors in producing forced labor.

All submissions must be historical in focus.

Prospective contributors to this special issue are asked to send an extended abstract of 1,000 words to the issue’s guest editors, John Mckiernan-González (mckiernangonzalez@txstate.edu) and Jessica Pliley (pliley@txstate.edu) by 15 January 2020. Abstracts should describe the prospective article and how it explicitly engages with the theme of the special issue. Authors should also include a discussion of the sources—archival or published—they will be using in the article.

Selected contributors will be informed within two weeks and asked to submit a complete manuscript by 1 March 2020, which will go through the Southwestern Historical Quarterly’s standard process of peer and editorial review. If the manuscript is accepted for publication at the end of this process, it will be published in the special issue.

“Chasing Slavery” Participant Spotlight: Dr. Robert T. Chase

Photo of Dr. Chase

In preparation for the upcoming symposium, Chasing Slavery: The Persistence of Forced Labor in the Southwest, to be held at Texas State University from 24-26 October, in Flowers  Hall 230, we will be running a series of posts focused on the conference participants and organizers. The conference will bring together dozens of scholars, with a keynote from Ambassador Luis C.deBaca (ret.). See the conference website for more details.

Today, conference participant Dr. Robert T. Chase, Associate Professor of History at Stony Brook University, shares with us a bit about his forthcoming book. 


We are Not Slaves coverTell me in four sentences why I should read your book.

Dr. Robert T. Chase: We Are Not Slaves will be the first study of the southern prisoners’ rights movement of the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s and the subsequent construction of what many historians now call the era of mass incarceration. By placing the prisoners’ rights movement squarely in the labor organizing and civil rights mobilizing traditions, my work reconceptualizes what constitutes “civil rights” and to whom it applies.  My book shows that this prison-made civil rights rebellion, while mounting a successful legal challenge, was countered by a new prison regime – one that utilized paramilitary practices, gang intelligence units, promoted privatized prisons, endorsed massive prison building programs, and embraced 23-hour cell isolation—that established what I call a “Sunbelt” militarized carceral state approach that became exemplary of national prison trends.  In this two-part narrative of resistance and punitive reconstitution, prison labor is treated as more than work; rather, prison labor constituted a regime of carceral discipline and power that ordered prison society, sexuality, white privilege and racial hierarchy.   By drawing on newly released legal documents and over 80 oral histories with prisoners, this book considers the intersectional nature of prison labor as a cite of power that intersected with spatial control, gender identity, sexuality and sexual violence, and race and racial privileges.  Rather than consider prison rape as an endemic feature of individual prisoner pathology, my study uses legal testimonies to excavate a changing prison society centered on labor division that controlled an internal sex slave trade that amounted to what what I call “state-orchestrated prison rape.”

What was the most surprising thing you encountered when researching your book?

Dr. Chase: The most surprising thing I encountered is the degree to which our criminal justice system relies on prevarication and outright lying to craft false narratives that incarceration offers modernization and rehabilitation, when, in point of fact, incarceration is, at its base, a system of state violence and coerced labor that ultimately eliminates people as citizens and as human beings.  As a civil rights scholar, I expected to find in these civil rights cases the all-too frequent allegation of corporal punishment and physical abuse.  But I never expected to find a system where fellow prisoners operated as guards over other prisoners where these “convict-guards” engaged in torture, maiming, daily abuse, and the sexual assault of other prisoners in a system that was sanctified by state power.   By drawing on legal testimonies and by conducting oral histories with the incarcerated, I learned that prison rape was a system of state-orchestrated sexual assault as a state reward for those prisoners who acted as guards.  As I shifted through personal papers, diaries, letters, and affidavits from the incarcerated, I became astounded at how these people who had so little formal education, learned to educate themselves, to become what are known as “jail house attorneys,” and how deeply these self-taught prisoners read philosophical and political treatises, and how such individual acts of “mind change” lent themselves to inter-racial political organizing in a racially segregated prison system that constituted a twentieth century “prison plantation” system that rendered these prisoners as literal “slaves of the state.”

What do you hope people will take away from our conference on trafficking, forced labor and labor exploitation? 

Dr. Chase: I really appreciate the thematic approach of this conference that has taken normally separate fields of study – sexual trafficking, mass incarceration, and coerced labor – to instead put these fields in dialogue with one another to show how taken together these topics all too often operate as overlapping systems of oppression and dehumanization.   Too often we think of “labor” as merely “work,” rather than the more comprehensive role that labor plays as a critically constitutive system that tends to divide society along strictly policed lines of race, ethnicity, class, gender, and sexuality.  When we think about labor as more than work and as a constitutive process of division, we can better reimagine our collective “work” as crossing these socially constructed divides to build bridges and collective communities to combat such societal divisions.

What challenge(s) raised by your research are you still trying to reconcile?

Dr. Chase: When I started this research in the early 2000s, there were relatively few historical studies of twentieth-century prisons and almost none of the prisoners’ rights movement. Despite the development of a “long civil rights movement” historiography, I found that the literature simply did not discuss the ways in which what we now call mass incarceration has turned the gains of the civil rights revolution into another age of racial disparity.

My contribution to this rethinking of post-1965 narratives is to demonstrate that the civil rights rebellion reached prisoners as well and that their collective efforts extend the struggle for civil rights into the decades of the 1970s and 1980s.  Moreover, my use of oral histories, legal depositions and affidavits, and courtroom testimony provides an example to students of the ways in which they can uncover the voice and agency of the prisoners themselves.  Despite winning the nation’s largest civil rights victory against unconstitutional prison systems, however, the Texas prisoners’ rights movement found that the ground had shifted underneath their feet and that just as the southern prison plantation fell, the new “Sunbelt” militarized prison arose from its ashes like a carceral phoenix.

When activists, abolitionists, policy makers, and reformers attempt to curb mass incarceration, they must seek redress not only at the federal level through national legislation but perhaps more importantly they must encounter the ways in which policing and mass incarceration are governed at the local and state level where the American state is indeed strong. One suggestion that my book offers is that social justice movements against mass incarceration should continue to focus as much attention on changes in local and state government as the civil rights movement once did when it sought civil rights as a matter of national and federal intervention. To dismantle this encompassing thicket of mass incarceration, we must utilize the spade of history to reveal just how deep we must cut to reach the roots of intertwining carceral states.

Also check out:

“Chasing Slavery” Participant Spotlight: Dr. William S. Kiser

William Kiser photo

In preparation for the upcoming symposium, Chasing Slavery: The Persistence of Forced Labor in the Southwest, to be held at Texas State University from 24-26 October, in Flowers  Hall 230, we will be running a series of posts focused on the conference participants and organizers. The conference will bring together dozens of scholars, with a keynote from Ambassador Luis C.deBaca (ret.). See the conference website for more details.

Today, conference participant Dr. William S. Kiser, Assistant Professor of History at Texas A&M University-San Antonio, shares with us a bit about his research. 


Book coverTell me in four sentences why I should read your book.

Dr. William Kiser: This book broadens our historical understandings of slavery during and after the Civil War era by examining two relatively obscure forms of involuntary servitude:  Indian captivity and Hispanic debt peonage.  It focuses on American legal and political understandings of slavery and free labor in the 19th century, and the impact that the Hispanic Southwest’s alternative slaveries had on abolitionist ideology and jurisprudence.  People should read this book because it challenges prevailing conceptualizations of slavery and free labor by emphasizing the expansion of Thirteenth Amendment jurisprudence to include peonage and captivity in addition to the more familiar chattel slavery of the Old South.

What was the most surprising thing you encountered when researching your book?

Dr. Kiser: The most surprising thing to me was just how little had previously been written about debt peonage in the American Southwest. In the past 20 years, historians have increasingly taken notice of Indian captivity and slavery in North America, but peonage in the Hispanic Southwest has somehow managed to linger in the shadows of public and academic awareness until very recently.

What do you hope people will take away from our conference on trafficking, forced labor and labor exploitation? 

Dr. Kiser: The main takeaway that I’d like to see is a better understanding of just how complex and complicated slavery is in the modern world and that, contrary to popular belief, forced labor remains prevalent but largely invisible throughout parts of the United States.  In this sense post-Civil War Reconstruction truly is, to borrow Eric Foner’s words, an unfinished revolution that continues to impact modern America.


What challenge(s) raised by your research are you still trying to reconcile? 

Dr. Kiser: The paper I am presenting at this conference actually address this very issue.  In Borderlands of Slavery, I took the story of peonage into the late 19th century, but I did not follow it into the 20th century.  I am currently researching the persistence of forced labor—particularly the peonage and partido systems–in the modern American Southwest and attempting to reconcile the national ban on debt peonage in 1867 with the ongoing existence of the system, in disguised forms, into the late 20th century.

 

Also check out:

“Chasing Slavery” Participant Spotlight: Dr. Manu Karuka

Karuka

In preparation for the upcoming symposium, Chasing Slavery: The Persistence of Forced Labor in the Southwest, to be held at Texas State University from 24-26 October, in Flowers  Hall 230, we will be running a series of posts focused on the conference participants and organizers. The conference will bring together dozens of scholars, with a keynote from Ambassador Luis C.deBaca (ret.). See the conference website for more details.

Today, conference participant Dr. Manu Karuka, Assistant Professor of American Studies, and affiliated faculty with Women’s, Gender and Sexuality Studies at Barnard College, shares with us a bit about his research. He can also be found on Twitter.


Tell me in four sentences why I should read your book.

Dr. Manu Karuka: Empire’s Tracks situates the history of the transcontinental railroad within an international history of imperialism. This framework helps dispel U.S. exceptionalism, as it has constrained historical imaginations. It also clarifies the relationships between processes occurring in North America, and those occurring elsewhere in the colonized world. Such insights can solidify internationalist understandings of North America in the past, and in the present.

What was the most surprising thing you encountered when researching your book?

Dr. Karuka: Working through the archives of Indigenous life in relation to the railroad, I came across records that have been cited in scholarship, and in Congressional testimony, often to deny or dismiss the collective land claims of Indigenous nations. I was surprised to consistently find records that scholars have cited as facts, which actually appear as rumors or questions in archival documents. Thinking about this pattern, I came to call it the “prose of counter-sovereignty.”

What do you hope people will take away from our conference on trafficking, forced labor and labor exploitation? 

Dr. Karuka: I believe that unity and solidarity are the primary tools to fight these forms of social suffering. I hope that participants in the conference can build their understanding, and their confidence, towards the necessary work of forging unity and solidarity in our historical moment.

What challenge(s) raised by your research are you still trying to reconcile? 

Dr. Karuka: Empire’s Tracks is driven by the question: What does a genuine anti-imperialism look like, from the vantage of North America? I continue to grapple with finding an answer to that question.

Also check out:

“Chasing Slavery” Participant Spotlight: Dr. Annie Isabel Fukushima

Dr. Annie Fukushima photo

In preparation for the upcoming symposium, Chasing Slavery: The Persistence of Forced Labor in the Southwest, to be held at Texas State University from 24-26 October, in Flowers  Hall 230, we will be running a series of posts focused on the conference participants and organizers. The conference will bring together dozens of scholars, with a keynote from Ambassador Luis C.deBaca (ret.). See the conference website for more details.

Today, conference participant Dr. Annie Isabel Fukushima, Assistant Professor in the Division of Ethnic Studies with the School for Cultural & Social Transformation at University of Utah, shares with us a bit about her research. She can also be found on Twitter.


Tell me in four sentences why I should read your book.

Dr. Annie Isabel Fukushima: Migrant Crossings examines the experiences and representations of Asian and Latina/o migrants trafficking in the United States into informal economies and service industries. It is an interdisciplinary analysis through sociolegal and media analysis of court records, press release, campaigns, filmic representations, performance and the law.  The book is an invitation to readers to query how readers will bear witness to migrants who experience violence in these migratory times. Anyone interested in issues regarding migration, citizenship, law and society, race, gender, transnational processes, and security should pick up this book. Readers encounter ghosts, notions of victimhood, court-performances and translation, zombified figures, and technologies of violence.

What was the most surprising thing you encountered when researching your book?

Dr. Fukushima: Part of the work was informed by my own work in community organizations. I found that a contradiction occurred. That as migrants navigated a range of institutions, they were bound to being seen in dualities of victim/criminal, legal/illegal, and citizen/noncitizen. I focused on a range of informal labor, however, informal labor cannot be disaggregated from formalized industries. And that in the campaigns and movement efforts to eradicate trafficking, the complex personhood migrants embody has been historically, socially and legally, reduced to nonhuman. And to see people for the complexity requires new modalities of witnessing. What I call, an “unsettled witnessing”.

What do you hope people will take away from our conference on trafficking, forced labor and labor exploitation? 

Dr. Fukushima: I hope people will see the significant role of history and the history of the present as central to our lived realities. That while we may not be laboring in the very industries where we see as ripe for exploitation, and that we not see trafficking as “everywhere” even our “neighbor.” But instead, we see how institutions and everyday realities structures the lives and conditions that create trafficking. A complex issue, it requires a complex response from multiple fronts—social, political, legal, historical, environmental, and cultural.

What challenge(s) raised by your research are you still trying to reconcile? 

Dr. Fukushima: I was left with the hauntings of how militarisms in the form of sexual slavery during war and militarized peace and (in)security served as the backdrop of my book. Additionally, Migrant Crossings is a book about labor. Therefore, I am currently working on my next book project which will dig deeper into militarisms and trafficking—however, with a particular interest in the role of contract workers. Amazing work has been done already, on sexual economies and militarized contexts. There is more to be understood regarding other forms of labor beyond sexualized industries.

Also check out:

“Chasing Slavery”: An Interview with Dr. John Mckiernan-González

Photo of Mckiernan

In preparation for the upcoming symposium, Chasing Slavery: The Persistence of Forced Labor in the Southwest, to be held at Texas State University from 24-26 October, in Flowers  Hall 230, we will be running a series of posts focused on the conference participants and organizers. The conference will bring together dozens of scholars, with a keynote from Ambassador Luis C.deBaca (ret.). See the conference website for more details.

Today, conference co-organizer Dr. Mckiernan-González, Director of the Center for the Study of the Southwest and Associate Professor of History at Texas State University, helps introduce the conference for our readers. He can also be found on Twitter.


Give us your elevator pitch for the conference. What is it about?

Dr. John Mckiernan-González: In a broad way, this conference aims to help us understand why forced labor continued after the 13th amendment banned slavery in the United States, and how people used the constitution to change their situation.  There is a thread in anti-immigrant politics in the United States that uses the rank exploitation of people in a given community to justify the expulsion or restriction of the presence of that community in the United States – rather than treating exploitation as a shared situation and part of a broader economic relationship.  This problem has been explored in depth in the U.S. South for year, from the rise of peonage during Reconstruction to the establishment of Jim Crow, and that deserves continuing exploration. By bringing a variety of perspectives, we can understand the many ways the 13th amendment shaped labor relations in the past and present of our multi-ethnic, indigenous and immigrant Southwest.  I want people to consider the criminal exploitation of workers, when conditions become visible and harsh enough to be considered a crime worth prosecuting.

In another sense, people should consider the way the challenge to forced labor, from peonage to labor trafficking, also involves a transnational response.  Our keynote speaker, Ambassador Luis C. de Baca, worked with the founders of the Coalition of Immokalee Workers to prosecute their contractors and, in the aftermath, the C.I.W workers went on to create one of the more successful migrant labor movements in the country. As historians, we have the disciplinary space to explore what happens before and after a labor conflict becomes a criminal matter, and track what different people do after slavery and human trafficking has been charged. One answer can be: create a labor movement.  Most of all, the conference should help us become more aware of the ways forced labor has shaped the Southwest.

What was the most surprising thing you encountered when researching the conference?

Dr. Mckiernan-González: Putting together the conference and the associated class on forced labor in the Southwest has been deeply educational.  I now tend to see forced labor almost everywhere, either directly or lying in the wings.  Most frustrating, of course, is when you realize key chapters in your work – in my case, my chapters on the (African American) Tlahualilo Colony and Camp Jenner in Eagle Pass would have been vastly improved.[1] I wish I had named the ways the medically detained refugees in Eagle Pass had to explain and challenge the contract they signed with William Ellis and the Tlahualilo corporation to demand help and resources from U.S. federal agencies.  Along with a deeper appreciation of the presence of forced labor, organizing the conference has helped me think more broadly about the labor constraints facing men and women in stigmatized communities – from juvenile inmates in state asylums to deaf migrants in a transnational forced labor key chain ring.

What do you hope people will take away from our conference on trafficking, forced labor and labor exploitation?

Dr. Mckiernan-González: Hope.  People have consistently challenged the constraints they have faced. Hopefully, people will leave the conference aware of the ways institutions maintain and have maintained forced labor in the Southwest and leave with an awareness that these struggles have a long and continuing history.

What challenge(s) raised by your research are you still trying to reconcile?

Dr. Mckiernan-González: Talking about the Chasing Slavery conference with soccer teammates and extended family has highlighted the way solidarity and coercion often coexist, from people sharing stories about adoption, smuggling debts to coyotes, to informal apprenticeships in semi-skilled trades like housecleaning and construction.  As a historian who prefers text, I see a distant connection between what appears on paper and the everyday coercions working-class people face; the challenge lies in tracing these connections.

[1] John Mckiernan-Gonzalez, “’At the Nation’s Edge’: African American Migrants and Smallpox in the Late Nineteenth-Century Mexican American Borderlands,” Martin Summers, Laurie Green and John Mckiernan-Gonzalez, ed. Precarious Prescriptions: Contested Histories of Race and Health in North America (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2015), 67-90

Also check out:

 

“Chasing Slavery”: An Interview with Dr. Jessica Pliley

Dr. Pliley photo

In preparation for the upcoming symposium, Chasing Slavery: The Persistence of Forced Labor in the Southwest, to be held at Texas State University from 24-26 October, in Flowers  Hall 230, we will be running a series of posts focused on the conference participants and organizers. The conference will bring together dozens of scholars, with a keynote from Ambassador Luis C.deBaca (ret.). See the conference website for more details.

Today, conference co-organizer Dr. Jessica Pliley, Associate Professor of the History of Women, Genders, and Sexualities at Texas State University, helps introduce the conference for our readers.  She can also be found on Twitter.


Give us your elevator pitch for the conference. What is it about?

Dr. Jessica Pliley: This conference tackles the question of the various ways that forced labor has persisted in the US after emancipation. My interest in this topic was born out the research I conducted for my first book, Policing Sexuality: The Mann Act and the Making of the FBI. While I was deep in the investigative case files of the FBI looking for cases of investigations into violations of the 1910 White Slave Traffic Act, I regularly encountered investigations into cases of peonage in the American South. After my book was published in 2014, I became more involved in international conversations occurring among scholars thinking about trafficking and forced labor, which led me to co-organize the Working Group on Modern Slavery and Trafficking at Yale University. That two-year working group considered the ways that history can and should shape our understandings of the development of liberal political economy that is predicated on unfree labor. Partnering with the Center for the Study of the Southwest allows me to look at the ways that forced labor persisted in a discrete region—the borderlands of the Southwest. This conference aims to being together historians, sociologists, and other scholars to consider the different sites of persistent labor abuse, while attending the ways that race, ethnicity and gender shape that abuse. The other aim of the Chasing Slavery project that excites me is more pedagogical. John Mckiernan-González and I are co-teaching a graduate seminar that features the writings of many of the participants of the conference. By hosting this conference, we are providing our students a unique opportunity to meet the scholars whose ideas they have been substantively engage with in class.

Symposium flyerWhat was the most surprising thing you’ve encountered when considering forced labor?

Dr. Pliley: I am consistently struck by the routine quality of extreme labor exploitation. In many ways it hides in plain view, both historically and now. It is almost impossible to find products with supply chains that are clean of labor exploitation. Everything from the tea we drink to the fast fashion we wear is produced through extreme labor exploitation. Until workers’ voices are more firmly incorporated into accountability schemes, I fear this will remain the case.

What do you hope people will take away from our conference on trafficking, forced labor and labor exploitation?

Dr. Pliley: I hope the conference will prompt attendees to look at work in new ways. I also hope that it will lead to dynamic conversations among the attendees.

What challenge(s) raised by your research are you still trying to reconcile?

Dr. Pliley: I struggle with the dominance of contractual thinking as it pertains to ‘labor’. Often times reformers will argue that the solution to poor working conditions is a better contract. But when you look at the history of contracts it becomes clear that large swaths of people, like women and people of color—the very same people who are most vulnerable to labor exploitation—were excluded from liberal contract theory. And instead the work these people labored at became racialized and gendered to justify unfree, uncompensated or poorly-compensated work. In my own area of expertise of intimate labor, the question revolves around the paradox of intimate labor. In tradition liberal thinking, laboring is a public act that can come under the protections of a contract, yet work that is intimate labor—child care, elder care, domestic labor, wifely labor, sex work—is often done in private domains of the family outside of public view.

Also, I am endlessly vexed and fascinated by the ways that extreme labor exploitation has been conflated with trafficking under the rubric of modern slavery. Like many other scholars, I am deeply critical of the use of the term “slavery,” yet I find myself bound be the term. Again and again, historical actors pulled on the evocative power of the metaphor of “slavery” to describe their own experiences or to agitate for reform. Yet, the term slavery can have a conflating effect, on the one hand, while also dismissing the horrors of chattel slavery, on the other hand. Furthermore, once ideas of trafficking get introduced into the mix, what I find is a general lack of precision about the specific abuses, processes, and choices people have faced and continue to face. I am hoping that our conversations at the conference will help me find a better vocabulary to describe the practices associated with forced and coerced labor.

Also check out: