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Abstract

This review examines the ambiguous condition of unfree labor in modern, Fordist, or postindustrial systems of exploitation. Unfree labor is reviewed across two multidisciplinary strands of research. The first pertains to forms of coercion and exploitation of labor in situations of human mobility or bondage—so-called modern-day slavery and human trafficking. The second attends to the effects of precariousness and dependency conceived at the interstice of recent theorizations of affect and belonging. Whereas the first case is framed as an exception, morally and legally condemned, the second is presented as a new ordinary form of inequality. A theoretical and empirical engagement that straddles both literatures under the prism of unfree labor consolidates this renewed anthropological focus on work. This review suggests that the objectification and dehumanization of labor should be placed back at the heart of anthropological reflection to pave the way for a refined scrutiny of exploitation, inequality, and dispossession.

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