Bonn Center for Dependency and Slavery Studies (© BCDSS)
Clusters of Excellence

Bonn Center for Dependency and Slavery Studies

The BCDSS at the University of Bonn aims to overcome the binary opposition of "slavery versus freedom". It is a research cluster within the framework of the Excellence Strategy of the federal and state governments.

The Cluster of Excellence is a joint project of researchers from many different backgrounds, including anthropology, archaeology, Asian and Islamic Studies, comparative religious studies, German medieval literature, history, and theology. We propose “asymmetrical dependency” as a new key concept that covers all forms of bondage across time and space.

Researchers from a range of humanities and social science disciplines are active at the international Bonn Center for Dependency and Slavery Studies (BCDSS) at the University of Bonn. They investigate profound social dependencies such as slavery, serfdom, debt bondage, and other forms of permanent dependency across epochs, regions and cultures: from the position of each specific subject, but even more so from interdisciplinary and transdisciplinary perspectives.

Our focus lies not on the modern world, but on its many different precursors in Asian, American, African and European societies. We want to move away from the dichotomy of “slavery or freedom” because it prevents us from seeing the great variety of forms of dependency. Instead, we employ the concept of “strong asymmetrical dependency”, which is more open to transcultural comparisons. Its core hypothesis is that dependent people cannot fundamentally change or even leave the situations they are in through protest or other forms of resistance without facing (massive) negative consequences. The research concept of “asymmetrical dependency” opens up new approaches to the study of slavery and dependency. So far, scholarly research on slavery has been dominated by the twin foci of slavery in classical antiquity, and modern transatlantic slavery. The research contributions of our Cluster of Excellence are breaking new ground, so that we can broaden the horizons of dependency research in terms of content, space and time.

Involved Institution:

  • Max-Planck-Institut für Rechtsgeschichte und Rechtstheorie

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