Governing the Risks of Slavery: State-Practice, Slave Law, and the Problem of Public Order in 18th Century Danish West Indies

Rethinking the Colonial State

ISBN: 978-1-78714-655-6, eISBN: 978-1-78714-654-9

ISSN: 0198-8719

Publication date: 20 December 2017

Abstract

I apply the Foucauldian conception of the state to the empirical case of the Danish West Indies in the second half of the 18th century. Here, I focus on the problem of public order and its formation in relation to growing concerns over general economic, social, demographic, and political risks that the institution of slavery posed to colonial society. I argue that the slave laws of the 18th century can be seen as a governmental strategy to manage the risks of slavery by constituting a public order that would be subject to policing by the state. I also argue, however, that the specific circumstances of colonial slavery shaped the regulative practices toward the necessities of a flexible, adjustable, responsive government. I suggest that this should be interpreted as a governmental strategy calibrated to the realities of the specificities of colonial rule, rather than simply a reflection of incoherence and incompetence on the part of colonial authorities. The larger argument is that actual state practices have to be seen as results of problems of government in a given context, and as a function of the dynamic and reciprocal processes of government.

Keywords

Citation

Sielemann, R. (2017), "Governing the Risks of Slavery: State-Practice, Slave Law, and the Problem of Public Order in 18th Century Danish West Indies", Rethinking the Colonial State (Political Power and Social Theory, Vol. 33), Emerald Publishing Limited, pp. 81-108. https://doi.org/10.1108/S0198-871920170000033004

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Emerald Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2017 Emerald Publishing Limited

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