@Book{ roberts2015,
    author = {Neil Roberts},
    title = {Freedom as Marronage},
    address = {Chicago},
    publisher = {University of Chicago Press},
    year = 2015,

Argues that Western political philosophy pictures freedom and unfreedom as static, “inert conditions,” paying little attention to “what happens during the act of flight itself” (p. 9). Through a process of “disavowal” of slave agency (not exactly silence, but instead acknowledgement followed by denial), political theorists who write about negative and positive liberty (including neo-republican theorists like Arendt and Pettit) also discuss unfreedom as freedom from interference or domination, instead of attending to the traumatic experience of slavery, which is the true antithesis of freedom. Once unfreedom is understood as slavery as enslaved agents themselves thought about it, we can understand freedom as a kind of “marronage.”

p. 10:

During marronage, agents struggle pyschologically, socially, metaphysically, and politically to exit slavery, maintain freedom, and assert a lived social space while existing in a liminal position. Agency here is temporally fluid in contrast to prevailing modern Western theories, particularly Aristotelian and Hegelian systems, which obscure the degrees of agency and their pertinence to freedom due to their inattentiveness to flight and mistaken rigid division between potentiality and actuality. In marronage, there is agency within potentiality. Actuality is merely the manifestation of a heightened form of activity in the action of flight.

p. 15: “Negative and positive theorists overwhelmingly conceive of freedom as a stable condition. … There is no consideration of the transitional space between unfreedom and freedom.”

p. 20: “importance of slave psychology” and “the value of experience” of slavery in theorizing freedom (p. 24)

p. 28: widespread attention to differences between freedom and liberty “perpetuate the unfortunate act of disavowing a much more fundamental relationship between freedom and slavery”

p. 28: “The metaphor of slavery is a trope in the Western imagination that overextends itself, the metaphorical eclipsing the experiences of the real.”

p. 29: Toni Morrison’s adage: “modern life begins with slavery.”

p. 29:

Disavowal centrally requires what I take to be a simultaneous double movement: an acknowledgement and a denial. By simultaneously acknowledging and denying an event, one does not silence its existence. Rather, one strategically locates an event and then rejects its relevance, knowing full well that it occurred.

p. 43: political theorists’ focus on political aspects of freedom (non-domination by the state, for instance, in Pettit) “eclipses the actions of agents whose struggles in flight define the free life. Trauma results from the contamination of a republican tradition and disavowed memory. … The internal trauma of slaves, their response to bondage, and the effects of their actions on institutions are tabled …”

Chapter 2, on Frederick Douglass’s theory of freedom, draws special attention to several aspects of Douglass’s thought, revealed especially in My Bondage and My Freedom:

  1. His insistence, echoed by Angela Davis, that “we can, and must, ‘learn from the experience of the slave’” as detailed in narrativies of fugitivity and slavery (p. 55), and especially that “pyschological and physical acts of struggle and assertion” by slaves are central to that experience (p. 57).
  2. His acknowledgement that “enslavement is the absolute condition of unfreedom” and also, contra Rousseau and modern Western theorists, his “acceptance of the premise that slavery is the foundational human condition” (p. 56, 57)
  3. His sharp differentiation between “liberation” and “freedom,” and his view of “the flight from slavery as a continual process of release from bondage” (p. 56) rather than a final, inert state.
  4. His discussion of “comparative” freedom and his frequent use of “comparatively” to modify related nouns.
  5. His distinction between slavery “in fact” and “in form,” two phrases he adds to the passage on his struggle with Covey. While slavery “in form” is a juridical or legal status, slavery “in fact” refers to the “psychological disposition of the agent,” so that “an agents conditions in fact and in form can be aligned or nonaligend” (slave in fact, free in form, e.g.; or slave in form but free in fact). While “countless theories that classify slavery solely” in terms of people who were slaves in fact and form, Douglass emphasizes the possibility of “comparative freedom” even within formal slavery (pp. 76-77). See table:
Fact/form Slave in form Free in form
Slave in fact Model 1 Model 3
Free in fact Model 2 Model 4

p. 77:

The least ideal condition is (1) and the most ideal state is (4). Against countless theories that classify slaves solely within model 1, Douglass suggests that slaves can be comparatively free while in bondage. Model 3 of his theory also offers a framework to answer questions posed by several theorists, including Rousseau in Of the Social Contract and Bob Marley in “Redemption Song”—the latter echoing Marcus Garvey—who ask how it is possible for one to be free legally and simultaneously unfree in psychological chains of dependence. For Douglass, it is not that the extreme models (1 and 4) are never fully realized. Models 1 and 4 describe conditions prior to and after the dialectical, intersubjective struggles experienced by enslaved agents. The capacity for activity is inherent in all slaves. Moments of struggle are catalytic in that they convert a slave’s potential for agency into the actuality of the lived experience of freedom.

p. 78:

Comparative freedom rejects totalizing models claiming absolute slavery or absolute freedom. Slavery and freedom have extreme states. Struggle emerges within the critical gaps between these absolute conditions. Assertion continues the realignment process begun by struggle.

pp. 87-88 contains a good summary of book’s argument to this point, including this:

by emphasizing the experience of agents, we understand more clearly the stakes of inquiring into the movement from slavery to freedom. Conceptualizing unfreedom and freedom as fixed states lacking liminal agents moving to and fro between them prevents proper analysis of these agents’ imagined and actual acts of struggle and assertion. An enslaved agent’s struggle for freedom is a lived, experiential priority, not a static a priori. Experience affects our comparative conditions.

Remainder of book lays out several categories of marronage (petit, sovereign, sociogenic), using the Haitian Revolution to elucidate examples of each, followed by a final chapter on Glissant and marronage in the present.

p. 173: “freedom materializes in the liminal and interstitial social space between our imaginings of absolute unfreedom and the zone of its opposite” and “[m]arronage philosophy runs counter to the idea of fixed, determinate endings.”