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Theoretical Bearings

How will it reflect that dialogue? And what theoretical resources will be of use as it unfolds? This book weaves together a number of different theoretical threads, each drawing broadly on the post-structuralist tradition. These threads include Bourdieu’s sociology, Howarth’s discourse theory, post-Marxist studies of hegemony and ideology, Foucauldian studies of governmentality, the anthropology of policy, migration studies and the sociology of childhood. All offer a handful of core concepts critical to the forthcoming discussion.

The first is discourse. In post-structuralist thinking, ‘discourses are systems of meaningful practices that form the identities of subjects or objects,’ while ‘the discursive is a theoretical horizon in which the being of objects is constituted’ (Howarth and Stavrakakis 2000: 3). This does not imply that ‘everything is language’ or that the object world exists only in our minds. Rather, it implies that the material exists independently of, but only has meaning on, the plane of the discursive (Howarth 2013, Chapter 1). That is to say, although the atoms you are holding remain an undeniable material reality, their identification as ‘a book’ depends entirely on the symbolic systems that give to this materiality that particular meaning.

Such an approach wholly de-essentialises meaning. It sees ‘a book’ as ‘a book’ not because the book possesses any transcendental ‘bookness,’ but because it is not ‘a pen,’ which is itself a signifying distinction only for and within the social worlds that accept the existence of and difference between pens and books. Meaning, in this understanding, is inescapably and intrinsically relational. It is fixed only partially and through the operation of metaphor and metonym, sameness and difference.

Meaning is thus also everywhere an artefact of practice and social consensus. If not inherent, it must be established intersubjectively, with what something ‘is’ being socially accepted and recreated through practice over time. In turn, this points to the structurally of discourse. What something means governs both how we see it and what we do with it. Meaning is recursively enacted in our language and in the everyday practices governing our world. UNICEF, for example, exists as a global institution not just because we share a particular understanding of childhood, but through and as an expression of that understanding.

Importantly, not all discourses are equal. Certain discourses carry more weight, are more important and come with more structuring ‘baggage’ than others. The most important are typically called ideologies. I call discourses ideologies when they are widely accepted, largely uncontested, of determining importance for other lower-level discourses, and when they naturalise and hide their own contingency (Zizek 1994b).7 Following Laclau, I also see them as an ongoing achievement of hegemony. In Laclau’s theorising, hegemony is not solely the mixture of coercion and consent involved in stabilising a political order. Rather, it is the achievement of the relative stability of meaning itself through which any and every discourse, ideology or coalition will be built (2001).

What role does power play within this framework? I make sense of power using Bourdieu’s concept of ‘capital’.8 Capital, Bourdieu argues, ‘is a social relation of power’ that commonly comes in four generic forms (Bourdieu 1986). These are ‘economic (money and property); cultural (information, knowledge, and educational credentials); social (acquaintances and networks); and symbolic (legitimation, authority, prestige)’ (Swartz 2013: 34-5, emphasis added). Different actors within the social field possess differential amounts of these different types of capital and use them in the struggle to establish or challenge dominance, including over meaning. A political actor may, for example, mobilise her social networks in the press to promote a particular discourse in the public domain, or she may simply buy advertising space to achieve the same end. In either case, she deploys her capital in pursuit of her goals.

Although all capitals are important in the creation of meaning, symbolic capital is the sine qua non. This is because symbolic capital denotes the legitimacy or ‘credit’ invested in an actor by others, without which that actor lacks the ‘believe-ability’ necessary to do anything at all. It would, for example, be absurd for a politician to spend fortunes buying a city’s billboards when the city has already discredited her as a liar. In that instance, her stock of symbolic capital would be so low that her economic capital loses all purchase, with the result that she can no longer ‘fix’ any meaning. Symbolic capital is thus ‘the accumulated authority to be able to exercise symbolic power,’ which is itself the ability to ‘name,’ to ‘impose... meanings as legitimate’ and to ‘shape perceptions of social reality by imposing cognitive categories through which we understand the social world’ (Swartz 2013: 83-4). In this sense, it is the foundational, overarching form of capital, since it is ‘the form in which different forms of capital are [themselves] recognised as legitimate’ (Atasu-Topcuoglu 2015: 17).

How does this relate to structure and agency? And in what ways do self and system interrelate? Although these twin concepts often represent antagonistic poles in mainstream social theory, post-structuralists reject either of the essentialist camps giving ontological priority to one over the other (e.g. Zizek 1994a; Stavrakakis 1999; Glynos and Stavrakakis 2001; Howarth 2013). They see structures and agents as requiring and overdetermining each other and reject that either can attain ‘fullness’ or closure at the other’s expense. Structures are seen as indeterminate, incomplete phenomena made up of agents recursively enacting or reforming their ‘structure-ness,’ while agents are viewed as constitutively incomplete and continually (re)shaped by the myriad criss-crossing contradictory structures they inhabit, recreate and resist.

Importantly, post-structuralists also break the agent into three interrelated but analytically distinct components. These are the subject, subjectivity and subject position. Subject positions can be understood as expressions of the discourses and ideologies one inhabits, manifesting in relatively neat correspondences between discursive-ideological structures and individual thinking or behaviour (what Bourdieu would call ‘habitus’ under ‘doxa’ [Swartz 2013: 90]). Subjectivity, by contrast, is the moment when habitus breaks down, when a crisis or disjuncture dislocates the structure, reveals its incompletion and leaves the subject with a decision over what to do (Critchley and Marchart 2004: 5). Crucially, the subject is compelled to make this decision—it is ‘condemned to be free’ (Laclau in Howarth 2013:

161-2)—precisely because it is a fragmented subject striving continually for (the illusion of) its own unity, and not the transcendental essence of a Cartesian cogito (Stavrakakis 1999: 14-15; Steinmetz 2006, 2014). As such, it is forced to identify with the discourses, identities and ideologies comprising the symbolic order as a condition of its very existence and in order to avoid dissolving in the trauma of the awareness of its own impossibility (Verhaege in Stavrakakis 1999: 73). This is important, because it is precisely the enjoyment of these illusions that holds the subject-psyche in the grip of its identification (Stavrakakis 1999: 45; Howarth 2010: 323, 2013: 175).9

Returning to structure and agency, then, let us note that these concepts map onto their sister concepts of ideology and subject(ivity)/subject position. Every individual lives within and at the nexus of many different discourses and ideologies, each defining the many aspects (or subject positions) of her being—as child protection worker, politician, migrant, academic and so on—and each of these gives form to how her being can and will be lived out (Abercrombie et al. 1994: 77). Yet at the moment of dislocation (or rather, during the infinite constant momenta of dislocation), when the incompleteness, arbitrariness and contradictions within the discursive-ideological structure are made manifest to the subject, this is when her subjectivity is called forth in the agency of her decision over what to do. In this moment, she has the radical freedom either to resist existing structures, to pretend in bad faith that they do not exist, to accommodate herself to them, or to try and build new ones. Whichever decision she makes will always bear the trace of power (Stavrakakis 1999: 36).

How does this relate to child trafficking and to the anti- child trafficking field? First, in that child trafficking is itself a discourse—there is nothing absolute or inherent to it. The labelling of certain phenomena as child trafficking depends on the naming actions of certain actors and on the social acceptance of that naming.

Second, because this naming is inherently contestable. Not all people share its meaning, and many will seek to challenge it. A concept as morally and politically loaded as ‘child trafficking’ will always generate a backlash, and this book is part of that. The testimonies it features in Chapter 3, for example (from people defined as ‘traffickers’ or as ‘trafficked’) offer a standpoint from which to view the relativity of the trafficking discourse and to evaluate certain of its alternatives.

Third, as a discourse, child trafficking is recreated through practice over time. This implies both that there are actors and actions central to the enactment and (re)creation of trafficking. Who are these actors? And what is the field that they act in? I use ‘field’ here in the same Bourdieusian way that Feldman (2011), Andersson (2014) and Atasu-Topcuoglu (2015) do in their parallel studies of European anti-trafficking and migration governance regimes. For them, as for Bourdieu, ‘the field...is a social environment in which relations among individuals, groups, and organisations are situated and performed.’ It can be understood as analogous to ‘a game,’ ‘a battlefield’ or ‘a market’ (Atasu-Topcuoglu 2015: 8), and is thus comprised of all the actors engaged in it, including those named earlier. What of their actions? The list is practically endless, but it inevitably includes the material and symbolic work of writing and publishing reports and media stories, drafting and implementing laws and policies, disseminating antitrafficking ‘sensitisation materials,’ rolling out anti-trafficking projects and holding anti-trafficking conferences.

Importantly, each of the actors taking these actions must be understood as possessing differential meaning-making power. All control different types and amounts of capital and are thus able to project and sediment their versions of meaning to varying degrees. Those with greatest capital, and in particular greatest symbolic capital, will always be more powerful in fixing definitions. But this does not render them invulnerable to challenge, and much of the discussion in Chapter 4 will examine how they and others navigate and respond to such challenges.

Capital, of course, must circulate, and it circulates through and between the actors comprising the anti-trafficking field. These individuals and organisations ‘perform’ trafficking in exchange for capital. Actors at the top of the anti-trafficking tree accrue symbolic capital by disbursing anti-trafficking funds (or economic capital) to the poorer, implementing individuals and organisations lower down the chain who are then tasked with preventing or responding to trafficking. They then exchange this symbolic capital with donor politicians in return for the economic capital they need to survive, while the smaller implementing bodies send symbolic capital ‘up the chain’ in exchange for the economic capital that they need. Politicians, in their turn, cash their own symbolic capital with voters.

Important rules of exchange govern the workings of this anti-trafficking ‘market.’ Neither trafficking nor anti-trafficking exists in a vacuum, and there are clear ideological limits to what can be said, done, performed or exchanged. In this book, I argue that the key limits are set by three core ideologies: Western Childhood, Neoliberalism and the Ideal State.10 As with all ideologies, the presence of these three is detectable precisely in their absence, in what is not said as much as in what is said (Therborn 1994: 184). It will be the task of the following chapters to reflect on these silences and to unpick the ways in which they govern from afar.

But first, some definitions. How are we to understand these ideologies? What does each term mean? To begin, I follow the tradition established by the sociology of childhood in understanding Western Childhood as only one of the many normative models of childhood, but one that is presently globally hegemonic (James and Prout 1997; Schmid 2009; Wells 2009). It emerged at the onset of capitalist modernity in the early nineteenth century and at the intersection of industrialisation and urbanisation (Aries 1962; Hendick 1997; Cunningham 2006; Fyfe 2007). It grew in prominence as social reformers sought to push children out of the labour market and was subsequently entrenched, codified and globalised by the combined forces of Western child psychology, professional social work, and the colonial and post-colonial diffusion of Western norms through(out) international institutions such as the UN (James and Prout 1997; Boyden 1997; Woodhead 1997, 1999; Hart 2010).

In contrast to previous or alternative models of childhood, this one elevates the child to the status of a precious commodity—a commodity to be protected, cherished and invested in, symbolically and economically (Zelizer 1994). It thus positions the child as a bearer of massive symbolic capital and its protection as a marker of civilisation (Boyden 1997: 220; Burman 2008). Its governing norms are assumed to be universal and include the need for a stable family, regular schooling, adult control and supervision, exclusion from the world of work and time to play instead of labour (Bourdillon et al. 2011). As these norms have sedimented into major social institutions, those offering a challenge or an alternative have increasingly found themselves pathologised and disciplined as deviant or destructive (Zelizer 1994; Boyden 1997; Hashim 2003; Wells 2009). We shall see further evidence of this in the next chapters.

Neoliberalism is a concept that has as many detractors as it does defenders. Though deployed widely in academia and activism, its imprecise and often exaggerated usage has led many to either avoid it or discard it entirely. This is a pity. For although I share the concern that overuse may blunt analytical sharpness, I remain convinced that we need something to describe the present global order, and fear losing the political and intellectual potency of this particular baby when disposing of its otherwise unwanted bathwater.11 Furthermore, I worry that by refusing to give a name to the ensemble of political, economic and cultural institutions comprising ‘the neoliberal,’ we do no more than to entrench its dominance, recreating the protective fiction that ‘it doesn’t really exist.’ Would this not, in fact, be to fall foul of the oldest ideological trick in the book?12

Accepting, then, that Neoliberalism does retain some descriptive-analytical value, the first thing to note is that the term refers to a type of capitalism. That is, a particular mode of production and social organisation that centres on regimes of private property and the creation and appropriation of surplus value. In this basic respect, the term’s primary utility lies in distinguishing this type of capitalism from other, previous or alternative types (Keynesianism, mercantilism and so on).

What is distinctive about it? In Harvey’s terms, it is first and foremost ‘a theory of political-economic practices that proposes that human wellbeing can best be advanced by liberating individual entrepreneurial freedoms and skills within an institutional framework characterized by strong private property rights, free markets, and free trade’ (Harvey 2005: 2). It entails a process of state-market-society restructuring that, however falteringly and in spite of its many contradictions, seeks to instantiate what Peck calls ‘market-like rule’ (2010: 20) by extending market rationality into ever further domains of social and psychological life (Mitchell 2004: 389; Sewpaul and Holscher 2004: 3-4). The neoliberal state thus (reconfigures itself to become more attractive to capital and diminishes its social and redistributive functions. It governs cost-effectively using probability measures developed by the insurance industry to ‘securitise’ the entire population (Foucault 2007). And it works to establish among its citizenry the self-disciplining, market-centric mindset of a neoliberal ‘entrepreneur of himself’ (Foucault 2008; also Li 2007; Weidner 2009). Again, we shall have recourse to think about the implications of this in the following chapters.

Our third and final ideology has been mentioned many times already— what I call the Ideal State. Ultimately, as Miller laments, ‘The world of states is the world we live in. For better or worse, it is what the human race has made of its condition’ (1981: 1). At the start of the twenty-first century and despite social evolution, change, challenge and resistance, ‘the central fact of the organisation of mankind is still the sovereign state’ (ibid.). As McLennan et al. observe, its secular growth is ‘one of the few really incontrovertible facts’ of modern times (1984: v). Whether one calls it ‘the sovereign territorial ideal’ (Murphy 1996), the ‘territorial state’ (Biersteker and Weber 1996) or ‘the idea of the modern state’ (McLennan et al. 1984; Hall 1984; Held 1984, 1995), the ideology and materiality of states and statehood are now universal. They cover almost every inch of the earth’s surface and subject nearly all of humanity to their power. They govern the childhood that one is supposed to enjoy and regulate the social system of production and distribution that we are all compelled to engage in. Crucially, the state’s reach extends beyond the state itself, down also into the people that it structures and up into the putatively inter-national institutions that that we shall be examining in this book.

In sum, therefore, it will be seen in the forthcoming discussion that these three ideologies place ‘objective’ limits on what can occur with regard to trafficking and in the anti-trafficking field. It will also be seen that these ideologies exist subjectively—in and through the actions and thinking of individual subjects, and in the moments of radical subjectivity that erupt at their seams. As was suggested earlier, different actors will inhabit and relate to these ideologies differently, both within the anti-trafficking field and beyond. Some anti-traffickers will have internalised them to such an extent that their subject positions both express these ideologies and facilitate the psychic enjoyment that explains their grip, while the same will be true of certain young migrants seeking to attain their own social identities. Others, by contrast, will have their subjectivity activated by dislocation and will thus have to decide what to do. In either case, we will see resistance, power and domination.

 
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