Zach Sell

Zach Sell is a PhD candidate in History at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. He is completing his dissertation ‘Slavery Beyond Slavery: The American South, British Imperialism, and the Circuits of Capital, 1833–1873’.

    White Overseers of the World

    by Zachary Sell


    For Cedric Robinson, capitalism has been characterised by chaos which cannot be captured by a unifying language.i If that is the case, it is not for lack of trying. In the mid-nineteenth century, abolitionist discourses sutured diverse geographies by interpreting the world within dichotomies of slavery and freedom. While this imagination enlivened abolitionist struggles against slavery in the US and beyond, it also elided the forms of colonialism and expropriation that visions of free labour rested upon. By foregrounding what Jairus Banaji has called the ‘incoherence’ of free labour, this essay considers the ways in which projects that have sought to universalise free labour have depended upon the proliferation of coercion.ii