Trained in political and feminist theory, I am interested in how human rights categories emerge and are contested within relations of geopolitical power and colonial, gendered, sexual, and racial formations. In particular, I focus on labor exploitation, forced labor and human trafficking. Relatedly, I examine how recognition of harm, such as gender and sex-based violence, can collude with systems of state and colonial violence. I focus on Russia and East Europe and the U.S.
Link to select publications here.
Critical Human Rights and the Politics of Trafficking
My first book, Economies of Violence: Transnational Feminism, Postsocialism, and the Politics of Sex Trafficking (2015) is an analysis of the resurgence of global anti-trafficking discourse at the end of the Cold War. With the demise of state socialist economies and the onslaught of economic and political instabilities, human trafficking became an urgent human rights focal point. While not a new category of concern, human trafficking was cast as an aberration of global capitalism and a pathology of an emerging postsocialist neoliberal order. Key to this framing was the racialized (white) figure of “Natasha,” a post-Soviet victim of trafficking in the sex trade. This real yet mythologized figure created an image of trafficking as primarily a sex crime unrelated to economic and political precarity. I argue that the confluence of postsocialist neoliberalism and an uncritical liberal feminist agenda mobilized carceral agendas in Europe and globally. To this day, there is a human rights deficit at the heart of anti-trafficking.
As I completed Economies of Violence, a major transformation in U.S. anti-trafficking discourse and tactics was afoot. The “domestic" turn in U.S. anti-trafficking directed attention towards a new category called domestic trafficking. Strangely, this category does not refer to where trafficking occurs (i.e., within U.S. territories) but to particular victims. Within the domestication of trafficking, the modern day slavery moniker is a resonant force.
In my second book, tentatively entitled Debts of Analogy: Accounting for Modern Day Slavery, I contemplate what is taken and made possible when racial slavery is instrumentalized through analogy in the context of anti-trafficking. Each chapter presents distinct yet interconnected cases of analogy in order to grapple with the debts, decoys, and entanglements produced by analogizing slavery in the context of U.S. settler colonialism. Engaging a recursive method of analysis, I examine the dilemmas that "modern day slavery" creates as a critical practice of accounting.