The Nebulous Definition of Slavery: Legal Versus Sociological Definitions of Slavery

Reference work entry


The aim of this chapter is to clarify the contours of the definition of slavery. Special attention is placed in understanding the blurred lines between the international legal definitions of slavery and of other exploitative practices, including the practices labeled as similar to slavery, as well as servitude and forced labor, and their relationship with trafficking in persons. A distinction is subsequently made between the international legal definition contained in the 1926 Slavery Convention adopted by the League of Nations and sociological ones developed by various scholars such as K. Bales, O. Patterson, and A. Honoré. Elements included in these definitions are analyzed and discussed in light of the 1926 definition of slavery. In this respect, the recent reorientation of international attention toward (forms of) contemporary, modern, or modern-day slavery is discussed, thus concluding that it offers a way to avoid careful scrutiny on whether exploitative practices fit the 1926 legal definition of slavery.


Slavery Practices similar to slavery Contemporary forms of slavery Servitude Debt bondage Forced labor Trafficking in persons 


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© The Author(s), under exclusive license to Springer International Publishing AG 2020

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Political Science and International AffairsJohn Cabot UniversityRomeItaly
  2. 2.Department of LawLUISS Guido Carli UniversityRomeItaly

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