Call for Papers: Summer School: Service - Servility - Servitude (MWF Delhi)

Bewerbungsschluss: 15.07.2023

3 - 6 December, 2023

Labour history has long been framed through the ‘free/unfree’ divide. Moreover, slavery as well as wage labour, indentured work and convict labour, as well as other labour relations, have traditionally been studied in isolation from each other. In the last decades, however, labour historians have highlighted the need to move beyond the ‘free/unfree’ divide (van der Linden and Brass, 1997; van der Linden 2008), expanded the range of labour relations under study, and insisted on the relevance of a processual perspective (De Vito, Schiel and van Rossum, 2020; Schiel and Heinsen, forthcoming). Especially the latter approach highlights the complex making of labour coercion, and offers the possibility to rethink key concepts, e.g. the ‘working class’, and periodisations in labour history.

Building on these new insights, the summer school foregrounds the potential of the concepts of ‘service’, ‘servility’ and ‘servitude’ to provide further entry points into this expanded labour history. At the same time, it seeks to uncover the historical importance of service and servile forms of labour that have been marginalized through discourses that focus on ‘free/ unfree’ labour, or have been addressed within isolated fields of research.

We think of labour regimes as diverse as family labour or domestic service, we look at shopworkers sharing work-spaces as well as close social ties in an Asian ‘bazaar’, we address inmates who worked in private households, or doing service as a punishment for certain crimes, workers in ‘informal’ backyard manufacturing units, farm hands living on the margins of agricultural households, or tributary and enslaved workers tied to service provision within the relationship to their ‘employers’ or polity. The triad of ‘service – servility – servitude’ operates as a structuring element particularly for types of work marked by high socio-spatial proximity with capital, one that provides an alternative facet for the inquiry into labour relations and enriches our understanding of the complexities of labour coercion. Thus, we are not only expanding the scope of current discourses on labour, but also the theoretical – more often than not binary – framework often applied. Using the triad ‘service – servility – servitude’ opens up new perspectives in the study of labour, and will consider overlooked histories.

We seek to bring together early-career and established scholars working in the field from across the world, specifically highlighting the implications of studies on and from the Global South towards our understanding of global modernities in labour regimes without restricting our inquiry by excluding the contexts of the Global North. The summer school is designed to allow PhD students not only to present their own work, but also to engage with theoretical and methodological questions in training groups organized and moderated by established scholars. Reading sessions of key texts from diverse regions, small reading groups and discussing writing methods will provide a space for students to openly discuss challenges faced during research and writing phases. Participants are encouraged to suggest or provide a paper or a source which inspired their research.

The summer school will be held at the Universidade Federal Fluminense, Niterói-Brazil. It is open to graduate students in history, sociology, anthropology, and archaeology, based in any part the world.

We welcome paper proposals:

• focusing on any geographical and chronological context;

• addressing different aspects of the triad ‘service – servility – servitude’;

• exploring aspects like race, gender, sexuality, and even an intersectionality perspective in connection to the applicants’ research themes.

Please submit your paper proposal (approx. 500 words), abstract, a short summary of you argument, current affiliation and short bio-note latest by 15 July, 2023 to: paulocruzterra(at)

Subject: Summer school: Service – Servility – Servitude

Candidates with PhD funding are expected to fund their trips. However, candidates without funding can apply in their application for support of their travel expenses.

You will be informed about the outcome of your application by 15 August 2023. Successful applicants will be expected to pre-circulate their papers among the participants by 30 October 2023.

For further information and queries, please contact: 

Paulo Cruz Terra - paulocruzterra(at)

Michaela Dimmers - dimmers(at)


Paulo Cruz Terra, Universidade Federal Fluminense, Niterói-Brazil

Christian G. De Vito, Bonn Center for Development and Slavery Studies, Bonn, Germany

Michaela Dimmers, Max Weber Forum for South Asian Studies, Delhi, India and Centre for Modern Indian Studies, Göttingen, Germany

Sebastian Schwecke, Max Weber Forum for South Asian Studies, Delhi, India

Nitin Varma, Humboldt University, Berlin, Germany

Call for Papers "Summer School: Service - Servility - Servitude" (PDF)