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Lecture and Workshop: Prof. Dr. Bridget Anderson

Lecture: Trafficking: beyond politics?


Course description:

Citizens may be broadly in agreement with government immigration policy and acknowledge the consequent logic of illegality and deportation, but its actual practice can be deeply unsettling. The lack of access to rights of undocumented migrants, detention, and deportation (particularly of children) are often seen as violating their human rights. One of the ways of managing the discomfort of immigration enforcement is to invert these kinds of arguments and posit immigration controls and enforcement as a response to human rights violations. In the same way as asylum processes supported human rights, so too it is claimed can immigration controls. This is the language of trafficking which is now firmly on the political agenda. This lecture will unpack some of the implications of this move and will consider the issues raised by such an attempt to reconcile immigration controls with a universalist idea of human rights. It will focus particularly on how the role of the state in creating vulnerability is overlooked by an emphasis on individual morality rather than institutional structures. It will also examine the implications and limitations of the usage of the language of ‘modern day slavery’ to contemporary migration. In particular I will consider how the invocation of the language of transatlantic slavery posits the contractual selling of labour as ‘free labour’, the tensions within this concept of ‘free labour’ as applied to migrants, and the broader implications for the labour market.Responses to ‘trafficking’ present liberal democracies as sites of free labour and equality but they also reveal anxieties about the nature of the market, its relation to society and more particularly its compatibility with ideas of the nation. Trafficking depoliticises these concerns and introduces the ‘humanitarian border’ into the heart of political space.


Recommended literature


Workshop: Who counts as a slave?


Task for participants:

In preparation for this workshop I would like you to read the case study booklet on the web. You are a caseworker who is aware of your superiors’ concerns about abuse of the system. You feel under considerable pressure to reduce the number of successful claims as a result. You have a case file on which you must make some decisions. You must select one as a victim of trafficking and reject the others. Please draft letters of acceptance and rejection to the claimants, outlining the reasons for your choice. The workshop will be organised as an appeal hearing and subsequent discussion. (this task as doc-file).

Case study booklet (as doc-file)

Text to read:

Eggebø, Helga: 'With a Heavy Heart': Ethics, Emotions and Rationality in Norwegian, Published by: on behalf of British Sociological Association, originally published online 23 July 2012 (The online version of this article can be found at: <>.