Annals of the Fondazione Luigi Einaudi

An Interdisciplinary Journal of Economics, History and Political Science

The Annals is a forum for the free exchange of ideas
among scholars working in the field of social sciences
Volume LVI 1 - 2022

Runaway Heuristics: A Micro-Spatial Study of Immobilizing Chains c. 1790

Johan Heinsen,
pp. 37-60
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This article presents a micro-spatial study of the trajectories of two prison breakers in 18th-century Denmark-Norway reconstructed from court documents and interrogations. Both men escaped multiple times from institutions known as slaveries (‘slaverier’) – convict labour institutions run by the army. Their repeated flights tie their stories to multiple circuits of labour and the practices of immobilization and coercion on which they rested. Thus, the article argues that the runaway can serve a contextualizing social history of coercion as a heuristic tool because the runaway moves both within, against and between regimes of immobilization, and in doing so shows us workable (and sometimes unworkable) pathways at specific historical junctures. The article proposes the concept of runaway heuristics to capture how following the itineraries of runaways can help us trace entangled processes of labour coercion, but can also serve in a less systematic, but no less useful, way to reveal highly situated dynamics, sometimes singular and often unexpectedly contradictory. The latter dimension highlights the need to think through a variety of disparate elements that shaped the individual trajectory, including the physical surroundings through which escapees moved, and their accumulated knowledge of those surrounding