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Trafficked women in the media: discursive constructions of trafficked women in three media genres

Stolic, Tijana (2019) Trafficked women in the media: discursive constructions of trafficked women in three media genres. PhD thesis, London School of Economics and Political Science.

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Identification Number: 10.21953/lse.00004210


In this thesis I explore how women trafficked for sexual exploitation emerge as subjects of public pity in media discourse. I do this by analysing their depictions in three media genres: film, celebrity advocacy, and newspaper journalism. The broad goal of the study is to understand how proposals for emotional and moral obligation towards trafficked women are constructed in the mediated communication of human trafficking. More specifically, I explore the dichotomy between ideal and undeserving victimhood through an intersectional lens by analysing how the embodiment, agency, and vulnerability of trafficked women are constructed in the media. The analytics of mediation is employed as a methodological approach, combining multimodal and critical discourse analysis as tools for analysing data. My thesis reveals that representations of trafficked women are characterised by discursive ambivalence and that dominant trafficking discourses, which coalesce around depictions of naïve, innocent, young women exploited by evil traffickers carry the most visibility, which is reflected in laws, policies, and humanitarian and human rights appeals. But more importantly, rather than an absence of marginalised identities and narratives, this study shows that victim hierarchies legitimate only those voices which are already dominant in social and institutional discourse. In other words, victim hierarchies are problematic not only because they highlight some groups as particularly worthy of public pity, but because they create and perpetuate dominant discourses at the expense of contextualising and politicising marginalised subjectivities and experiences. Victim hierarchies, therefore, result in a discursive ambivalence within semiotic texts that do carry political potential but, as it is, fall short of giving full political agency to those trafficked women whose experiences and identities do not conform to notions of ideal victimhood.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Additional Information: © 2019 Tijana Stolic
Library of Congress subject classification: H Social Sciences > HQ The family. Marriage. Woman
H Social Sciences > HV Social pathology. Social and public welfare. Criminology
P Language and Literature > PN Literature (General) > PN1990 Broadcasting
P Language and Literature > PN Literature (General) > PN1993 Motion Pictures
Sets: Departments > Media and Communications
Supervisor: Chouliaraki, Lilie

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