Constructing Labor Markets: The Valuation of Black Labor in the U.S. South, 1831 to 1867

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2012

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Abstract

In the U.S. South, a free labor market rapidly-although, in some cases, only nominally-replaced the plantation system of slave labor in the years following the American Civil War. Drawing on data comprising 75,099 transactions in the antebellum period, as well as 1,378 labor contracts in the postbellum era, I examine how the valuation of black labor was transformed between the 1830s and the years of emancipation. I trace the process of valuation through four markets for labor, moving from slave purchases and appraisals within the plantation economy, to the antebellum system of hiring out, to wage-setting for black labor under the auspices of the Freedmen's Bureau. Comparative analysis of labor pricing across these markets reveals systematic differences: slave markets placed price premiums on children and young women, and occupational skills emerged as the most salient influence in the pricing of wage labor. I conclude by theorizing how transvaluation of labor occurs when markets for unfree and free workers are governed by distinct institutional conditions. © American Sociological Association 2012.

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10.1177/0003122412465282

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Ruef, M (2012). Constructing Labor Markets: The Valuation of Black Labor in the U.S. South, 1831 to 1867. American Sociological Review, 77(6). pp. 970–998. 10.1177/0003122412465282 Retrieved from https://hdl.handle.net/10161/27400.

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Ruef

Martin Ruef

Jack and Pamela Egan Distinguished Professor of Entrepreneurship

My research considers the social context of entrepreneurship from both a contemporary and historical perspective. I draw on large-scale surveys of entrepreneurs in the United States to explore processes of team formation, innovation, exchange, and boundary maintenance in nascent business startups. My historical analyses address entrepreneurial activity and constraint during periods of profound institutional change. This work has considered a diverse range of sectors, including the organizational transformation of Southern agriculture and industry after the Civil War, African American entrepreneurship under Jim Crow, the transition of the U.S. healthcare system from professional monopoly to managed care, and the character of entrepreneurship during early mercantile and industrial capitalism.


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