Institute for Social Justice

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Politicizing Movement: A Critical Genealogy of Human Trafficking – Professor Jeanne Morefield

When: 13 May 2016, 2pm – 4pm

Where: Level 18, Tenison Woods House, 8-20 Napier Street, North Sydney

RSVP: Please RSVP via email


Scholars of international norms regimes, international law, migration,  and women’s studies have all noticed the startling rise of interest in the issue of human trafficking over the last twenty years.
Since the early 1990’s – but particularly since 2000 – this focused attention on the part of the media, NGO’s, governmental and  intergovernmental organizations alike, has led to an efflorescence of aid organizations, charitable initiatives, UN protocols, and nation-specific legal protections aimed at stemming the cross border flow of persons forced into prostitution. And yet, while  these scholars have linked the spike in interest in human trafficking to a variety of contemporary developments in global politics, few inquiries have focused on the political/rhetorical significance of the term “traffic” itself or given more than a cursory  glance toward its historical origins as a modern, humanitarian discourse.  This paper serves as an initial introduction to a more sustained, critical genealogy of “human trafficking” that seeks to address that gap.  As such, it focuses on the emergence of  “traffic in women and children” as a humanitarian discourse in the wake of World War One and on the work of the League of Nations’ “Traffic in Women and Children Committee” during its most active years during the inter-war period.  As a powerful, discursive  form of politicized non-politics, I argue, the language of “traffic” in this context served a variety of institutional and ideological purposes that appeared to be at cross purposes. In the end, the very fact that the term “traffic in women and children” proved  to be such a felicitous rhetorical vehicle for internationalists, imperialists, anti-imperialists, nationalists, moral purity crusaders, and feminists alike, has much to tell us about the capaciousness of the concept and the conflicting visions of gendered  global politics tucked into its seemingly obvious veneer.


Jeanne Morefield is Professor of Politics at Whitman College.  Working at the intersection of political theory, history, and international relations, she is the author of Empires Without Imperialism: Anglo American Decline and the Politic of Deflection(Oxford University Press: 2014) and Covenants Without Swords: Idealist Liberalism and the Spirit of Empire (Princeton University Press: s200_jeanne.morefield2005).  Professor Morefield is currently writing a book for Rowman and Littlefield’s “Modernity and Political Thought” series on Edward Said as a modern political thinker.  The book examines Said’s work in the context of contemporary discourses of international crises and humanitarian intervention, arguing that Said’s notion of counterpoint brings a necessary critical-historical perspective to these notably presentist worldviews. She has written for History of Political Thought, Political Theory, Theory and Event, and other journals as well as contributing chapters to edited volumes concerned with both political theory, international relations, and the history of international and imperial thought. She serves on the editorial boards of Humanity, Contemporary Political Theory, and Political Research Quarterly.  Professor Morefield is from Seattle and received her BA from Oberlin College and Ph.D. from Cornell University.  She can be reached at or


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