Doing Ethnographic Research in the Field of Anti-Trafficking

Methodological and Conceptual Challenges

Convenors: Giulia Garofalo Geymonat (Università Cà Foscari, Venice) & Michela Semprebon (Cattedra Unesco SSIIM, Università IUAV, Venice)

This session proposal aims to address the theme of human trafficking and to critically assess the systems of prevention, protection and rehabilitation in origin, destination and transit countries, within and outside the EU, and their impact on women, men and transgender people involved in trafficking.

This session intends to bring together scholars from sociology, anthropology, gender studies, migration and legal studies, human rights, who have explored the functioning of the existing anti-trafficking systems in EU and non-EU countries and the extent to which they are dealing with the needs of victims, in face of the changing dynamics and emerging routes and trends of trafficking. In fact, in spite of a proliferation of anti-trafficking projects, little critical evaluation has been carried out to assess anti-trafficking policies and practices.

This panel welcomes contribution from scholars who have adopted ethnographic approaches to interrogate anti-trafficking interventions. The following are examples of questions that they might have addressed:

- To what extent are the anti-trafficking systems equipped to deal with different kinds of victims – in particular how are they able to take into account their diverse positioning in terms of gender, age, sexual orientation, parenthood, nationality, ethnicity?

- Although women and unaccompanied minors are traditionally considered as most vulnerable to sexual exploitation, transgender people and men are being increasingly involved in this and other forms of exploitation. What are their living conditions and what obstacles do they face to access the anti-trafficking system?

- How are systems of anti-trafficking dealing with issues linked to secondary trafficking routes, and to so called “re-trafficking” dynamics in countries of origin?

- Many victims of trafficking have been living in EU countries for more than two years, within or without the system of reception and/or protection. How have their experiences of anti-trafficking interventions impacted their present lives and future projects? To what extent have programs of “voluntary return” represented an effective opportunity in this sense?

- What are the challenges of conducting research in the field of anti-trafficking, in relation to access to the field, researcher positionality, autonomy of critical research – in particular but not exclusively depending on funding sources?

- How have researchers experimented with forms of participatory or collaborative research in this field, and to what extent have they been able to address the conflicts and polarizations that characterise trafficking and anti-trafficking?


Trafficking, anti-trafficking, forced labour, sexual exploitation, secondary routes, re-trafficking.

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