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Is there such thing as ‘global sex trafficking’? A patchwork tale on useful (mis)understandings

This article intends to respond to a recent call  for more innovative studies and methodologies in order to move beyond the current discourse on human trafficking. We do so by describing three ethnographic fragments on the dynamics of (dealing with) sex trafficking within Europe.

The concepts of ‘friction’ and ‘collaboration’ (Tsing Cultural Anthropology 15(3):327–360, 2000, 2005) are used to analyse these fragments. These concepts refer to creative processes that occur as people interact across differences. They give insight into how universal ideas on freedom and justice enable collaboration between parties involved in fighting human trafficking who do not necessarily share a common goal. We conclude that the presented method of ‘patchwork ethnography’ is useful in studying sex trafficking as it implies a strong focus on connections between ‘sites of diverse knowledge’, without losing sight of individual stories of people making those connections. ‘Patchwork ethnography’ is innovative and it allows researchers to expose and untangle the workings of the supposedly all-powerful phenomenon and the encompassing, uniform, hegemonic discourse surrounding human (sex) trafficking.


Migration and Mobility


Research Ethics and Methods


Yvon van der Pijl, Brenda Carina Oude Breuil and Dina Siegel