Date of Award

2018

Degree Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Graduate Group

Communication

First Advisor

John L. Jackson

Abstract

Trafficking in Anti-blackness shows how global campaigns to end human trafficking employ the memory and discourses of 19th-century slavery and abolition to advance their cause across sectors: news media, policy, NGOs, museums, philanthropy, and universities. The moniker “modern day slavery” has become a popular transnational social movement fundamentally constituted through digital media circulations and opportunistic historical conflation. I argue that by naming a new slavery—human trafficking—amid the persistent material and symbolic effects of historic racial slavery, liberal state and non-state actors appropriate black suffering. Such appropriations circumvent Western historical responsibility for enslavement by positioning the West as always freedom-granting: only ever abolitionists then and only ever global liberators now. Anti-trafficking advocates also use black suffering to advocate for market-based and carceral solutions to unsafe migration. In short, anti-trafficking work is being done in the name of slavery, through the imagery of abolition, in ways that end up legitimizing the governing structures that produce global suffering.

This dissertation uses visual and ethnographic discourse analysis to investigate how the phrase “human trafficking is modern day slavery” operates within four case studies. Drawing on critical ethnic studies and media studies, I contribute to the current critical anti-trafficking literature by demonstrating the central role that race, racism, and anti-blackness play in the discourse to end modern day slavery.

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