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Carolyn Caine
Institute for Policy & Social Research
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Beyond Discourse symposium examining human trafficking research

Tue, 04/02/2019

LAWRENCE — An interdisciplinary symposium examining human trafficking research is coming to the University of Kansas Lawrence campus April 4 and 5. Beyond Discourse: Critical and Empirical Approaches to Human Trafficking is sponsored by the Institute for Policy & Social Research. 

Kamala Kempadoo of York University in Toronto will open the symposium with a keynote address at 4 p.m. Thursday, April 4, at the Spencer Museum with a reception to follow. April 5 will feature panels by regional and national scholars, including Amy Farrell of Northeastern University as well as a closing keynote at the Hall Center for the Humanities by Sally Engle Merry of New York University.

While often constructed as a universally abhorred form of violence, the concept of human trafficking continues to raise contentious debates in activism, policy and scholarship. Mired in divisions around the role of the state, gender and sexuality, labor exploitation and migration, factions disagree over definitions of trafficking. Some urge abandoning the term altogether.

"Most people have heard of human trafficking, and, even across the political aisle, agree that it’s something we should fight," said Stacey Vanderhurst, assistant professor in the Department of Women, Gender & Sexuality Studies. "However, what we really mean by this term varies from group to group, with real consequences for how we should act to stop it. This conference will bring together dozens of experts from around the world to figure out how human trafficking is defined, policed and prevented so that our research can support policies that better protect the rights of migrants, sex workers and other people affected by these issues."

This two-day conference will apply the contributions of critical antitrafficking scholarship to the demand for empirical research on human trafficking in local communities and around the world. It uses the insights of discursive critiques to conduct better research on the prevalence, nature and prevention of social problems that have become known as human trafficking. Scholars seek interdisciplinary and intersectional conversations to better understand the continuities and ruptures across investigations of human trafficking, building toward more just and effective frameworks for research on exploitation and violence.

"The Anti-Slavery and Human Trafficking Initiative is the hub for research on human trafficking at KU, and we are focused on developing strategies for preventing vulnerability and exploitation," said Hannah Britton, associate professor in the departments of Political Science and Women, Gender & Sexuality Studies. "Our hope is that this conference brings researchers into conversation about developing better research techniques to understand the forces driving vulnerability."

For more information, email Christie Holland at beyonddiscourse@gmail.com.



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