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The Symbolic and Economic Capital Trade-Off

There are, I argue, two core trends that run through the dynamics documented earlier. These are (1) a degree of top-down control, at least over representation, if not over practice, secured primarily through the exercise of economic power in the form of conditional disbursement or the threat of its withdrawal, and (2) a degree of bottom-up representational (self-) discipline, irrespective of practice, which results from the (assumed) threat of a loss of this representationally conditional disbursement. This is the trade-off between symbolic and economic capital. It regulates the flow of resources throughout the anti- child trafficking field in the way that the heart does with blood through the body. In two-dimensional diagrammatic form, it looks something like this (Fig. 4.1):

Institutions possessing greater economic power (such as donor agencies) and individuals possessing greater institutional authority (such as managers) bestow economic capital on those beneath them and in possession of lesser economic power (such as small NGOs or subordinate employees). This economic capital guarantees survival and reproduction for the latter—wages for people to eat, and grants to keep institutions in business. In return, subordinates offer up the commodity that the holders

The symbolic and economic capital trade-off

Fig. 4.1 The symbolic and economic capital trade-off

of economic power want—labour power—and in the form that they require—project implementation for subcontracted institutions, or work on said projects for institutional employees. Although this is evidently an imbalanced exchange, it is far from one-way. Since what the spenders of economic capital eventually accrue is precisely the symbolic capital that they in turn need to survive. Donors, for example, are legitimate only if they use their money to pay for successful projects. And what success means in any given context will tell us everything we need to know about the ideological rules of the game, since the concept is only ever socially constructed.

In terms of anti- child trafficking, this has a number of implications for how we understand the field. First, it means that any notion of unidirectional dependence must give way to one of ‘dynamic dependence’ (Naudet 2000), since dependence, although unequal, is clearly mutually constitutive. In Lecomte’s terms, ‘the hand that gives depends also on the hand that takes,’ such that the performativity of the subordinate can be understood as partially securing the very structures of his subordination (2000: 167). Second, the symbolic capital-conditioned nature of the exchange between these two actors can help to explain at least some of the stability characteristic of mainstream anti-trafficking. Because the flow of symbolic capital nearly always requires individuals and institutions to represent what they do as well planned, coherent and ultimately successful even if in reality it has been nothing of the sort. This, of course, limits learning and it limits change, since it hides practical hybridity beneath representational solidity (Mosse 2004, 2005). Third, when it comes to ‘success,’ what we have seen throughout this book is that the anti- child trafficking field constructs success very narrowly and in terms only of the promotion and sedimentation of the institutions and mentalities seen as necessary for the creation of safe and healthy (read: Western) childhoods, including the putatively protective Ideal State and its accompanying Free Market. This is why rhetorical or practical challenges to Western Childhood, Neoliberalism and the Ideal State have so routinely been prevented, and why what has been permitted serves implicitly to reconstruct and reinforce these governing ideologies. This, then, is hegemony at work. And what it points to is the fact that the anti- child trafficking field’s prime achievement is the depoliticised and recursive re-inscription of the overarching rules of the game.

 
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