So I just returned from an academic trip to Cologne, Germany, and I thought I’d describe a bit of what I was up to over there.
So late last year I was contacted by a group of scholars associated with the Global South Studies Center at the University of Cologne. This group of scholars is concerned with both the history and current manifestations of coerced, bonded, indentured, and forced labor in our world. They asked me to join them at a small conference at the University of Cologne last week. As part of the conference Transformations in the Global South, I contributed to a panel called Bonds and Contracts. That panel, chaired by Ulrike Lindner, included the following papers:
- Alexander Keese (HU Berlin): What Was Colonial Forced Labour? Reflections About an “Entangled” Practice in Western and Southern Africa, 1890-1960
- Vincent Houben (HU Berlin): Colonial Contract Labour: The Javanese in Southeast Asia
- Andrew Gardner (Puget Sound): On the Symbolic Life of the Labor Contract: Contracts, the Kafala, and the Paper Trails of the Gulf Migrant
This was truly a fantastic panel of scholars, researchers, and presenters. Although mine was the only paper that dealt with peoples and migrations in the contemporary world, the parallels between the Gulf migrants’ experiences I track and the historical labor relations described in the other
papers was extraordinary. Indeed, I emerged from this panel less secure than ever about the purportedly unique characteristics of the modern labor migrants I study.
The conference as a whole included six other excellent panels. A portion of the conversation at the conference concerned how applicable and appropriate the concept of a “global south” remains. The fact that the conference included numerous scholars who count themselves of the “global south” only enhanced the conversation.