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International Conference on

Forcing Issues: Re-thinking and Re-scaling Human Trafficking in the Asia-Pacific Region

Co-organised by the Migration Cluster, Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences, and the Asia Research Institute, National University of Singapore

Although the Asia-Pacific is emerging as an “epicenter” for human trafficking activities of various kinds, the contribution of critical and in-depth academic research concerning the subject is still quite limited. Ethical concerns, methodological impasses, and the moral anxieties that hamper discussion of the subject are particular problems affecting research. Much of the existing information on trafficking in the region has subsequently been generated by international and local non-government organizations and governmental agencies, either directly or through “commissioned research”. However, there is no doubt that anti-trafficking organizations have agendas that can impact on selectivity in research topics and outcomes. Responding to the emphasis on human trafficking as a form of “transnational crime”, as in the United Nations approach to the issue, academic research has also tended to be quite restricted in orientation. Three issues dominate: first, reviews of the effectiveness of counter-trafficking policies and criminal justice responses; second, critiques of the United Nations Trafficking Protocol itself, and; third, various aspects of “sex trafficking” (understood as trafficking for commercial sexual exploitation).

This conference aims to explore the ways social science researchers and some NGO actors have begun to make more critical contributions to understanding human trafficking and the anti-human trafficking framework through in-depth engagements with localized sites within the Asia-Pacific region. Discussion in the conference will be based on, but is not restricted to, the following questions:

  • How, and how effectively, has the anti-trafficking framework impacted on “victims” and non-trafficked migrants experiences of mobility, support and justice?
  • What methodological and conceptual lenses, including ethnography, have been adopted with some measure of success in researching human trafficking issues?
  • What issues have been relatively neglected in research on human trafficking to date? Why? What contributions to our understandings – including unsettling received assumptions – can these other issues make?
  • How has human trafficking been “popularized” as a human rights issue and in what media and forums has this process occurred? With what effects?

We are particularly interested in contributions that de-centre the geographical locatedness of human trafficking research as primarily a “developing country problem” or of particular sub-regions as “epicenters”. We are also keen to involve contributions that examine a range of types of human trafficking beyond commercial sexual exploitation, or which contest the ways “sex trafficking” has been researched to date. Finally we are keen to ensure that marginalized issues are raised including internal trafficking, health concerns, gender issues in human trafficking, and specific issues concerning “child victims”. In short, we aim for papers that are concerned with ways of re-thinking and re-scaling our understandings of human trafficking within this region.

Possible panel themes would include:

  • Methodologies and Ethics in Human Trafficking Research
  • Alternative Approaches “Sex Trafficking”
  • The Impact of Anti-trafficking on Trafficked Persons and Non-trafficked Migrants
  • Media, Advocacy and the Popularisation of Human Trafficking
  • Neglected Forms of Human Trafficking
  • Alternative Geographies of Human Trafficking
  • Graduate Student Special Panel


Those wishing to present a paper at the conference are invited to submit an abstract of 300-350 words in length and a short biographic paragraph by 30 April 2010 to Ms Sharon Wok at
Apart from summarizing the main arguments and findings of the paper, the abstract should also address how the paper speaks to the conference themes and questions and the methodological and theoretical orientation of the paper.
Please also indicate which proposed panel theme you think your paper would best fall under. The full paper should be about 5,000-6,000 words in length.

Successful applicants will be notified by 14 May 2010.

Full papers are due on 20 August 2010.

Dates: 4-5 October 2010

Venue:          National University of Singapore