'Doing Something' about Modern Slavery: Scenes of Responsibility, Practices of Hospitality

UoM administered thesis: Phd

Abstract

This thesis examines the desire and efforts to 'do something' about what is variously called 'modern slavery' or 'human trafficking'. Neoabolitionist efforts to fight such phenomena are typically wedded to a simplistic and essentialist ontology, unaware of or rejecting their own performativity. The thesis is not about slavery: it is about the ethico-political problem of responsibility and hospitality toward the other in the context of contemporary anti-slavery. What constitutes an ethical response to modern slavery? I explore the often violent effects of particular answers to this question but ultimately argue that the focus on doing something (and knowing it) threatens the very possibility of hospitality - of an ethical response. Through a conceptual vocabulary of 'scenes' I explore the performative interrelation of ontology and ethics. It is intended to help resist the metaphysical seductions of ontology and moral urgency. Scenes bundle specific ontologies, frames, conjured histories and futures, roles and narrative structures, distributions of concern, desire and enjoyment. Response begins with the discursive and affective co-constitution of the self, the one to whom we respond, and the scene in which it takes place. Scene-specific forms of responsibility can operate as a defence against the full force of responsibility to the other. Chapters 1 and 2 develop the notion of scenes and explore how neoabolitionism sets its scenes and locates favoured solutions. The remaining chapters explore those solution areas. Chapter 3 looks at how a US movement against 'sex trafficking' in internet advertising reproduces a Manichean world of simplicity by a game of Whac-A-Mole with websites, ritualistic repetition of baseless 'facts', silencing of sex workers, and aggressive demonization of those who disagree or argue for greater complexity; Chapters 4 and 5 draw on time I spent in San Francisco with two very different organisations. One, Not For Sale, makes a product of experiencing neoabolitionism, joining together charity, capitalism, consumer enjoyment, technology and the excitement of a movement of 'true believers', producing innovative approaches but in the process reinforcing problematic gendered and colonial stereotypes. The other, Anti-trafficking Collaborative of the Bay Area, works quietly and tactically in a messy immigration system, aware of the political and performative nature of their work. They actively take responsibility for their own preconceptions and desires to ground a profoundly hospitable client-centred approach avoiding many pitfalls identified in earlier chapters. The thesis has a performative element woven through it - the ethos of the work is one of unsettling both existing practices and literatures, and the writer and reader. The concluding chapter explores the impossibility of hospitality, its interrelation with juridical subjectivity and the ethics demanding and giving accounts in light of the preceding chapters, suggesting a performative approach toward the other is possible.

Details

Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
Supervisors/Advisors
Award date31 Dec 2016