Regulating and Resisting the Plantation City: Domestic Workers and Market Women in Nineteenth Century Salvador, Brazil

Authors: Laura Vaz-Jones*, University of Toronto
Topics: Urban Geography, Gender, Historical Geography
Keywords: Brazil; domestic workers; market women; the plantation
Session Type: Virtual Paper
Day: 4/10/2021
Start / End Time: 8:00 AM / 9:15 AM
Room: Virtual 37
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


Salvador, Brazil developed as an entrepot city to facilitate the export of sugar from the New World’s earliest plantations and the import of millions of enslaved African people. The almost complete reliance on enslaved people for production, social reproduction, and the circulation of goods, people, and provisions in the city profoundly shaped the city’s socio-spatial development and hierarchies. This paper interrogates how domestic workers and market women in mid- to late- nineteenth century Salvador experienced and resisted the regulation of their labour, mobility, and social lives. Specifically, it examines punitive by-laws enforced against market women and police initiatives to register domestic workers in the decades leading up to and following emancipation. I draw on legislation, government and judicial records, wills, manumission letters, and newspaper articles and advertisements to trace efforts to criminalize and control the lives of domestic workers and market women. At the same time, I examine the strategies they developed to survive and subvert the constraints of slavery and its afterlives. I study these historical documents to shed light on the experiences of enslaved, freed, and free Afro-descendant women and interrogate their use of flight and maroonage, manumission, legal challenges, work disruptions, and their unsanctioned use of public and private spaces. This paper therefore attempts to highlight the immense contributions of domestic workers and market women to the everyday functioning and reproduction of the city, and understands the targeted regulation of these actors as a response to their power and efforts to disrupt it.

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