Human Trafficking Part 6

by wildfeministappears

Read Part one here:


How Useful is Current Methodology?

Much of the methodology used to study human trafficking has been criticized by researchers, who believe it has the same problems as any global problem: It’s difficult to quantify, especially when trying to come to numbers in regions.  Some anthropologists believe that there can be no true collaboration of an entire area.  Police, health officials, the government, victims, and others much work together to create a clear picture, and this is an impossibility in many arenas, despite how globalization has brought communities together (Pijl: 2011).

Anna Tsing has started an innovative type of ethnography called “patchwork ethnography”, in which the ethnographies are connected together through fragments.  She believes that some connections are stronger than others and can help make sense of the global phenomenon, and how some of the situations are uniquely similar for everyone in the world (Pijl: 2011).  Unfortunately, some people may have agendas when giving away information and hiding certain other facts from researchers.  Many publications are influenced by political debates rather than keeping to systematic research (Tyldum: 2005).

Victims are also lumped together due to the lack of accurate numbers.  Women and children are often clumped together, and men are sometimes ignored altogether, especially young boys who are forced into the same types of situations.  When children are brought out of trafficking, it is exceedingly difficult to gain information on them because of their service providers, who protect them as a vulnerable population.  There is a necessity in making close connections to the practitioners, which makes the research sometimes seem biased to what the service providers want, considered “self-serving” (Gozdziak: 2008).

The information needs to be systematically examined based on current definitions of who is being trafficked, who has been trafficked, and who is at risk of being trafficked.  This kind of information is based on UN protocols of who is and who isn’t a victim of trafficking.  It is also important to gather information on all types of trafficking, like organ trafficking, bridal contracts, and child soldiers (the latter two are unlikely in the United States).  Most of the research done now is based on stories from survivors and those involved in the investigations, leading to an underestimation of the problem (Tyldum: 2005).

            Due to a lack of information, very few methodologies exist to ascertain the kind of situation that the United States is dealing with.  Field work would be an unwarranted risk to the anthropologists as well as the victims, and statistical numbers are impossible to come by.  Therefore, ethnographies have become a staple in understanding human trafficking.  However, even ethnographical research has its pros and cons within the situation, many of which are being debated for other types of subjects.

            Ethnographies within anthropology are typically used to study other cultures, but can also be used to study phenomenon in the world by writing about the experiences of those within the situation.  However, this kind of writing tends to separate “us” and “them”, which gives the idea that human trafficking can only happen to certain types of people, a theory that Americans already have.  It also presupposes that there will be no mutual ground between the researcher and the interviewee (Thomas: 1991).

            There is also the issue of applied versus academic anthropology, in which this sort of research, from an academic setting, does not do much to help resolve the trafficking situation or the people who are being interviewed.  There can be very little engagement in the research, as that would form a bias, but there needs to be a way to represent other “realities” that makes them accessible to the general public.  Also, if the writing is not accessible to even those who are being interviewed, because they can’t read the material or understand the concepts, then the writing has little practical use (Enslin: 1994).  This paper, along with many others like it, can quantify the human trafficking problem, but will most likely stay within the academic community, giving little purpose to others who may be involved in the crime.  Pramila Parajuli, a woman from Nepal, said, “After all, what is writing: You looked, you saw, you wrote a book.  But that book won’t do anything if not companied by work, by practice” (Enslin: 1994).

            Anthropologists continue to struggle with their multifaceted relationship with public and activist research.  Collaborative ethnographies are an essential part of bring the interviewed person into the process so that it is well known what the person believes is important and what needs to be done.  This helps with understanding the original point of view of the situation, as without it there may be misrepresentation that ruins the research that may be useful in learning about human trafficking (Lassiter: 2005).  This is especially important when it comes to a sense of agency for the victims, as they may have different feelings about trafficking than the researcher does.

            Also, ethnographies are not based on scientific research, but on inferences based on individual stories.  Those who are speaking to anthropologists are aware of their interview and what they would like to say, and form their answers around their own bias, controlling what is observed by the researcher (Aunger: 1995).  Oftentimes, survivors are shy about saying anything about their situation, for fear or for other reasons.  It is important for the researcher to understand variability within the ethnography and how to isolate aspects that may influence observations, making certain that there are no methodological biases on the part of the researcher or the person being researched. (Aunger: 1995).

            In a scientific sense, each scenario has no chance in being replicated, but it is the job of the anthropologist to analyze the information and find connections between the stories, themes that might be repeated, such as how traffickers handled the slaves, or how they were brought into the trafficking ring (Aunger: 1995).  Multi-sited ethnographies, those that collect information from multiple sites, are good for this kind of research, because they follow connections, and relationships that occur in cases (Marcus: 1995).  It does take skill to understand the nuances between cultures when it comes to doing multi-cited ethnographies, but it helps to understand the global connections of the phenomenon.  It has been suggested that each story be connected to processes within the world system to better comprehend the whole of the problem, such as when traffickers prey on those who have little in the world or unstable family lives (Marcus: 1995).