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Imaginary penalities: reconsidering anti-trafficking discourses and technologies

Boukli, Paraskevi (2012) Imaginary penalities: reconsidering anti-trafficking discourses and technologies. PhD thesis, London School of Economics and Political Science.

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The antithesis between a criminalisation and a human rights approach in the context of trafficking in women has been considered a highly contested issue. On the one hand, it is argued that a criminalisation approach would be better, because security measures will be fortified, the number of convictions will inevitably increase, and states’ interests will be safeguarded against security threats. On the other hand, it is maintained that a human rights approach would bring more effective results, as this will mobilise a more ‘holistic’ approach, bringing together prevention, prosecution, protection of victims and partnerships in delivering gendered victim services. This antithesis, discursively constructed at an international level, cuts across a decentralised reliance on the national competent authorities. To investigate this powerful discursive domain, I set these approaches within the larger framework of a tripartite ‘anti-trafficking promise’ that aims to eliminate trafficking through criminalisation, security and human rights. I ask how clearly and distinctively each term has been articulated, by the official anti-trafficking actors (police and service providers), and what the nature of their interaction is within the larger whole. In grappling with these questions, I undertake both empirical and theoretical enquiry. The empirical part is based on research I conducted at the Greek anti-trafficking mechanisms in 2008-2009. The theoretical discussion draws, in particular, on the concept of ‘imaginary penalities’ introduced in the criminological work of Pat Carlen. I consider what it might mean to bring this concept to bear in the context of anti-trafficking. In my analysis, criminalisation is linked to a ‘toughness’ rhetoric, an ever-encroaching and totalising demand for criminal governance. Security is shown to express the contemporary grammar of criminalisation, crafting a global language of risks and threats as core elements of the post 9/11 ideological conditions in the area of crime control. Finally, human rights are figured as tempering or correcting the criminal law for the sake of victims’ protection. Together, these three elements constitute a promise that, once they are balanced and stabilised, trafficking can be abolished. Yet it is not only trafficking that is at stake. My study shows how anti-trafficking discursive formations also produce particular forms of subjectivity and conceptions of class, sex, ethnicity and race. The upshot is to bring into focus the imaginary penalities at the centre of anti-trafficking discourses and technologies, while also suggesting the possibilities for contesting and transforming their subjects and fields of operation. The thesis opens up the conceptual map of future critical engagement with the relation of structural inequalities and imaginary penalities.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Additional Information: © 2012 Paraskevi Boukli
Library of Congress subject classification: H Social Sciences > HV Social pathology. Social and public welfare. Criminology
J Political Science > JX International law
Sets: Departments > Law
Supervisor: Marks, Susan and Chinkin, Christine

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