Slave Legacies, Ambivalent Modernity: Street Commerce and the Transition to Free Labor in Rio de Janeiro, 1850-1925
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"Slave Legacies, Ambivalent Modernity: Street Commerce and the Transition to Free Labor in Rio de Janeiro, 1850-1925" is a history of street vending during the transition from enslaved to free labor in the capital of the most enduring slave society of the Americas. Street vending - long the province of African slaves and free blacks - became in these years a site of expanded (European) immigrant participation and shifting state disciplinary policies. My dissertation contends that during the gradual transition to free labor, urban policing and the judicial system in the city of Rio came to target "criminality" rather than illicit or improper vending practices. Disciplinary measures established by criminal law focused on correcting individuals who were peddlers and not inadequately regulated street commercial activity. Thus, the language of citizenship appeared in court cases to both establish and resist negative characterizations of street vendors while a gradual marginalization of street commerce occurred within the framework of citizenship building. The practice of street commerce during this transitional era reveals a historical process that produced and transformed notions of legitimate work and public order as well as the racial segmentation of the labor force. Street vending, I argue, became a strategy of subsistence among the post-abolition urban poor, who came to their own understandings of freedom, free labor, and citizenship. Elite and popular attitudes toward street vending reflected the post-abolition political economy of exclusion and inclusion, which peddlers did not experience as mutually exclusive but rather as a dialectic of an ambivalent modernity.