Philosophies of Wrong: Slave Girl Protocols of Abolitionist Emancipation

Posted: 4 Nov 2013

See all articles by Jasmine Syedullah

Jasmine Syedullah

University of California, Santa Cruz

Date Written: November 4, 2013


Rooted in a critical rereading of Harriet Jacobs’s Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl, Written by Herself, this paper re-thinks the abolitionist tradition through the figure of the slave girl and the particular politics of emancipation she enacts and displaces. By staging a series of important deviations from the largely disembodied enlightenment discourses of emancipatory desire central to the Western liberal tradition I argue that Jacobs's slave narrative works to refuse and re-imagine a lineage of abolitionist praxis commonly regarded as derivative of, rather than distinct from, the Western cannon of political theory. Shifting Jacobs’s slave girl protocols of emancipation from the margins of the abolitionist tradition to its epistemic center demands the assemblage of a more capacious extra-disciplinary approach to the kinds of captivity her activism aimed to abolish; one that relies not only upon the sharpened analytic tools of political philosophical thought, but so too those analytics wrought to repurpose them, in particular black feminist interventions to conventional binaries that stabilize categories of gender difference, as well as critical approaches to the historical formation of slavery's domestic social orders that shaped and maintained categories of racial and ethnic differences even beyond the victory of Constitutional emancipation.

Keywords: feminist political philosophy, antislavery abolition, theories of liberation

Suggested Citation

Syedullah, Jasmine, Philosophies of Wrong: Slave Girl Protocols of Abolitionist Emancipation (November 4, 2013). 2014 National Conference of Black Political Scientists (NCOBPS) Annual Meeting, Available at SSRN:

Jasmine Syedullah (Contact Author)

University of California, Santa Cruz ( email )

1156 High St
Santa Cruz, CA 95064
United States

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