Building Cases: Victims of Trafficking As a Socio-Legal Category

Monday, 11 July 2016: 14:15
Location: Hörsaal 33 (Main Building)
Oral Presentation
Julia LESER, Leipzig University, Germany
Anne DOLEMEYER, Leipzig University, Germany
How does a personal story become a case of a victim of trafficking? Based on an French-German ethnographic study of local institutional practices aiming at the control, policing and empowerment of ‘victims of human trafficking’, we analyse how a person comes to be categorised as a victim of trafficking, as she is processed through the system, from being identified as a victim by a social counselling centre, to being processed by the police and finally to the way the courts deal with these victims as witnesses. How do different local actors adopt legal categories in the daily interactions with their clients? The presentation will illustrate continuities as well as discontinuities within that process, circulations of knowledge between different actors, and power relations that produce certain representations of the ‘victim of trafficking’ within state discourse. Furthermore, we are interested in the ways in which such categorisations are being legitimised and which consequences result from these processes for the people subject to the classifications, and what ‘looping effects’ (Hacking 1986) result. Drawing on ethnographic research conducted in Germany as well as with regard to the framework by Valverde & Rose (1998) and Jane Scoular (2010), the paper will ask how different legal frameworks are employed or ignored in institutional regulatory practices in the case building and thus in the production of ‘the trafficking victim’ as a socio-legal category.

Therefore, we look at the ‘Victim of human trafficking’ as a social and political category, a classification in Hacking’s sense (Hacking 2006), produced by a set of different institutional actors and their classifying and categorising actions of women in prostitution – rather than a mere statement of fact. Human trafficking is thus not a problem that can be fixed without understanding its shifting meanings.