Course Meeting Times

Seminars: 2 sessions / week, 1.5 hours / session


There are no prerequisites for this course.

Course Description

Before the World Cup held in Brazil in Summer 2014, many fans saw billboard posters and social media ads featuring the silhouette of a naked woman standing on a playing field, her feet clad in red high heels with chains shackled to her ankles. The ad was promoted by an anti-trafficking organization claiming sporting events like the World Cup become periodic "hot spots" for sex trafficking and exploitation, as millions of fans, athletes, and affiliated sponsors flock to major cities. However, the ad was met with protest from a number of organizations, especially sex workers' rights organizations, that such publicity merely increased policing and police brutality around the event, and no increase in trafficking was actually reported. They claimed that the overwhelming focus on sex trafficking detracted from deeper and more systemic exploitation issues: What about the Brazilians under debt bondage and exploitative labor to construct the World Cup sites? The children and adults who are exploited in the forced begging industry as tourists streamed into Brazilian cities? The hopeful young athletes who might themselves be locked into smuggling and extortive schemes?

In this class we will use "slavery and human trafficking" as starting points to help us critically analyze the relationships between sex, gender, and human rights; race, colonialism, and political economy (thinking about the Atlantic slave trade, the Gulf kafala system, and South Asian caste structures); capitalism and labor exploitation (especially in the food and agriculture industry); public health and bodily violence (focusing on organ transplants and commercial surrogacy); and new technologies used by police and workers alike. Our case examples will include issues that receive high media publicity—forced sex work, child labor in construction and clothing, and the illicit trade in organs—but also pay attention to "less sexy" forms of trafficking and exploitation. These include exploitation and sexual violence in strawberry fields and American beef farms, debt bondage in Thai shrimp processing plants, abuses of Bangladeshi construction workers and Filipina domestic workers in the Gulf region, smuggling and exploitation after major natural disasters and post-war conflicts, and the exploitation of Dominican baseball players and Siberian fashion models alike.

We will discuss the intimate entanglements of gender, sexuality, race, and class and remain attuned to these entanglements as we read, listen, view, and engage with the texts, both literary and visual, in this class. Students will have the opportunity for impact outside the classroom through small group meetings and action project opportunities with a United Nations agency and an international non-governmental organization.

Learning Goals and Class Groups

This course requires students to keep an open mind. For each week I have assigned readings that will give you case studies on the class theme and theoretical framing to stimulate critical thinking. I will assign videos, music, poetry, and other multimedia pieces to engage with the topic. By the end of this course students will have an introduction to thinking critically about the relationships between knowledge production; identity politics; community engagement and cultural specificity; governance, policing, and bureaucracy; technoscience and the politics of aid and development; and systems of capitalism and political economy.

We will be dealing with some difficult texts—texts that are visual, tactile, and may be emotionally triggering, that deal with sexual and emotional violence, child abuse, and war and mass violence. Please talk to me at any point as we work through the topics this semester. Building a community with your classmates will also be integral. To this end, students will form small groups for the semester, culminating in a final presentation at the end of the semester.

Small groups will meet every other week and discuss the readings, and / or view the film assigned for that week. The small group will agree by consensus on a regular, convenient time and location to meet, to be reported to the instructor. In your group you will discuss the guiding questions for the week and / or watch film clips as assigned. You may skip a maximum of 2 small group meetings during the semester, for academic or personal reasons.

Action Project Opportunities

This is such a live, timely, and rich issue. "Trafficking" illuminates the interconnectedness of multiple systems of inequality and injustice–I want you to consider the ways in which your particular skills and ideas could be useful outside of the classroom. To this end, I have set up external partnerships with two different agencies working on anti-trafficking issues. Two of the small groups will have the opportunity to frame their final project around these partnerships.

  • UN Action for Cooperation Against Trafficking in Persons (UN-ACT)
    One group will do their project in coordination with the UN-ACT Project, based at the UN in Bangkok. This group will focus on labor, agriculture / fishing, migration, and Southeast Asia: Further details to be discussed with UN-ACT.
  • End Child Prostitution And Trafficking (ECPAT International)
    Another group will have the opportunity to do their project with ECPAT's Programme on Sexual Exploitation of Children Online (SECO). This group will focus on commercial sexual exploitation of children, child abuse images ("child pornography"), and sexual abuse online.

Grading and Requirements


Attendance, Preparation, and Participation

Weekly Response Memos 20%
Small Group Meetings 10%
Small Group Final Presentation 10%
Term Paper Outline & Bibliography 20%
Term Paper (Revised Draft) 20%

For more detail on the weekly response memos, the small group final presentations, and the term paper, see the Assignments section.

Readings and Films

All required reading and viewing materials can be found in the Readings and Films section. I have included recommended reading for students who are interested in pursuing the topic further; these resources might come in handy as you develop your term paper.

For some texts we will be reading various chapters throughout the semester; students who are interested may wish to purchase these books for personal use (not required):

Kempadoo, Kamala, Jyoti Sanghera, and Bandana Pattanik, eds. Trafficking and Prostitution Reconsidered: New Perspectives on Migration, Sex Work, and Human Rights. 2nd ed. Paradigm Publishers, 2011. ISBN: 9781594519895.

Mahdavi, Pardis. Gridlock: Labor, Migration, and Human Trafficking in Dubai. Stanford University Press, 2011. ISBN: 9780804772204. [Preview with Google Books]

Grant, Melissa Gira. Playing the Whore: The Work of Sex Work. Verso, 2014. ISBN: 9781781683231.


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