Chapter 5 aims to construct a new framework for approaching the complex phenomenon of slave identity. The first part of the chapter distinguishes between categorical and relational modes of slave identification and examines their implications. The second part of the chapter examines three key aspects of slave identities: the categorisation of people as slaves; the various self-understandings of the slaves; and the forms of slave groupness. This conceptual framework highlights the complex and contradictory phenomenon of slave identities; while slave categorisation had undoubtedly major consequences for the lives of slaves, at the same time slaves could see themselves as free people in captivity, or build identities and groups on the basis of other factors: gender, kinship, ethnicity, religion and profession. Ultimately, the major struggle that slaves engaged in concerned the gap between the nominal slave identity imposed on slaves and its real impact in shaping slave lives. The concept of ‘enslaved persons’ allows us to capture the complex and contradictory character of slave identities.
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