AFRODESC African descendants and slavery: domination, identification and heritage in the Americas

The slave trade and slavery have always been globalised phenomena. The objective of this project is to comprehend the global aspect of the social dynamics studied (today characterised by such terms as “diasporas”, “Black Atlantic”, “transnational movements”), by conducting research on localised sites, the results of which will be contrasted and resituated in a larger framework.

This multidisciplinary project emanating from and focusing on colonial and post-colonial societies, from north to south, aims to overcome two recurring tendencies in the discourse on slavery: setting blame on western societies through the generalisations and interchanging of the notions colonialism, slavery and racism; and victimisation, which tends to naturalise differences in culture and in origin, establishing them as “racial” differences, immutable and definitive.

1. Scientific context and project objectives

Whether in the form of “remembrance laws”, mobilisations relating to the “black issue” or the public recognition of Afro-American cultural heritage, current events reveal that the representation of slavery has become a fundamental issue, of multiple facets, for understanding the historical construction and contemporary evolution of societies scarred by a traumatic event. Correlated yet dissimilar in its expression and consequences, slavery- and its continually renewed meaning in contemporary social relations- is not only at the core of the (re)definition of North-South relations, but influences interactions between Southern regions themselves.

In a scientific field characterised by the near exclusive referral to the Anglo-Saxon concepts “diaspora” and “hybridity”, our work shall draw upon Latin American empirical work and theoretical contributions regarding ethnic identities and multicultural politics, produced in a context of social relations regarded as hegemonic, both on a national and international level. Our work falls within the concept of “global history”, which aims to clarify the “big picture” (Davis Brion Davis) of the slave trade, involving manifold social actors, places and events.

2. Description of the project and methodology

The project involves three major thematic axes. The first aims to reconstruct the genealogy of certain stigma and to analyse the relation between slavery and racialisation. It draws upon an analysis of the production and shift of categories, designated by both self and others, of slaves and their descendants. The association between “slave” and “black” shall then be studied in a long-term context, through the establishment of socio-racial frameworks in different colonial and postcolonial contexts. Lastly, the continuation and renewal of forms of inclusion/exclusion shall be analysed through different expressions of contemporary racism.

A second axis focuses on the relation between identity, citizenship and nation. It highlights the Latin American situation, where the meaning of the nation has evolved in terms of mixing, which is construed within a rationale of homogenisation, and in terms of the introduction of multicultural politics, which has caused ethnicity to become a means of integration. Diverse contexts shall be compared in order to uncover the national mechanisms that define and institutionalise citizenship and the recognition of difference. Study of mobility processes, in a long-term approach, shall improve understanding of the transnational rationales underlying globalised ethnic citizenship and multiple national ties.
The last axis focuses more specifically on forms of mobility and the transfer of signs associated with the history of slavery and Afro-American culture. The establishment of remembrance politics along with the public recognition of the slave heritage shall be explored, as these politics tend to redefine local identities and to situate them within a globalised market of difference. In light of the development of cultural tourism and the global promotion of festivals and carnivals, the objective is to study how forms of representation are imposed, thereby legitimising or de-legitimising certain historical facts and certain identity traits.

A complementary approach, between historical and contemporary approaches, seeks improved comprehension of the forms of continuity and rupture having marked slave and post-slave societies and the modes of renewed meanings of this painful past. In addition, although the topic shall be broached in its global dimension, tracing the path of the transatlantic slave trade, the research shall draw upon compared localised studies, revealing the diversity of the social, cultural, political and intellectual dynamics related to slavery. Beyond achieving original empirical research, the cooperative work in and on colonial and colonised societies shall enable us to compare and contrast methods, theoretical references and results (and distribution) in each of the “sites” concerned.

3. Expected results

We intend to overcome two recurring tendencies in the discourse on slavery, the first of which involves setting blame- expressed politically through reparations- on western societies through the generalisations and interchanging of the notions colonialism, slavery and racism. The second tendency involves victimisation, which tends to naturalise differences in culture and in origin, establishing them as “racial” differences, immutable and definitive. Simultaneous with the appearance of the “question of race” in France, this project seeks improved understanding of Latin-American and Caribbean experiences in terms of multicultural politics, while at the same time encourages greater knowledge in the North of scientific research conducted in the South. Lastly, by bringing together researchers and teachers, the project also aims to create educational resources on the slave trade and slavery, in order to fill this large gap in French educational programmes.

Participating institutions

 Institut de Recherche pour le Développement (IRD)

 Centre d’Etudes Mexicaines et Centraméricaines (CEMCA)

 Instituto Nacional de Antropologà­a e Historia (INAH)

 Universidad de Cartagena

 Groupe De Recherche International sur les Esclavages (GDRI Esclavages)

 Unité de Recherche Migrations et Sociétés (URMIS)

 Institut Universitaire de Formation des Maîtres (Paris 12 – IUFM de Créteil)

Axis 1: Slavery and racialisation: genealogy of a stigma


 Cottias Myriam (GDRI Esclavages)

 Velázquez Maria Elisa (INAH)


 Bonacci Giulia (URMIS)

 Correa Ethel (INAH)

 De La Serna Juan Manuel (UNAM)

 Funsarep y Centro de cultura Afrocaribe

 Geneste Elsa (GDRI Esclavages)

 Quintero Oscar (IRD, Université de Rennes 2)

 Restrepo Eduardo (Universidad Javeriana)

 Rogers Dominique (GDRI Esclavages)

Axis 2: Nation, citizenship, identity: multiculturalism and restructuration of North-South relations


 Audebert Cédric (GDRI Esclavages)

 Hoffmann Odile (CEMCA)


 Agudelo Carlos Efrén (CEMCA)

 Cunin Elisabeth (IRD et GDRI Esclavages)

 De Almeida Mendes António (GDRI Esclavages)

 Lara Gloria (CIESAS)

 Lestage Françoise (URMIS)

 Ortiz Cassiani Javier (Universidad de Cartagena)

 Poiret Christian (URMIS)

Axis 3: Globalised movement and transferred Afro-American cultural signs


 Avila Freddy (Universidad de Cartagena)

 Rinaudo Christian (URMIS et IRD)


 Béchacq Dimitri (IRD)

 Gutierrez Sierra Edgar (Universidad de Cartagena)

 Juárez Huet Nahayeilli (CIESAS)

 Pérez Montfort Ricardo (CIESAS)

Transversal Axis: teaching slavery

Responsable :

 De Suremain Marie-Albane (Paris 12 – IUFM de Créteil)


 Aprile Thierry (Paris 12 – IUFM de Créteil)

 Mesnard Eric (Paris 12 – IUFM de Créteil)