Introduction: The Gender of Humanitarian Narrative

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It all begins with telling someone else’s story and the dilemmas with which that telling may burden the teller. The novelist Nuruddin Farah recounts how, when he was a child in Somalia, illiterate adults would ask him to write letters for them in exchange for a small “tip.” One day a man came to him and asked him to write a letter to his wife, who had been absent for some time from the man’s home. As Farah tells the story, “He says, what I want you to do . . . is to tell her in this letter, she’s been away far too long. I want her back. And I will give her three months. If she does not come—tell her in the letter, and make sure you tell her this—if she doesn’t come back, I’m going to go to the place where she is, break every single bone in her, drag her all the way back to where we are standing now.” Farah continues, “Instead of writing, `If you don’t come back, I’m going to break your legs, drag you all the way back here,’ I wrote down, `If you don’t come back within three months, you will consider yourself divorced.'” The woman, after receiving the letter and having it read to her, took the letter to a judge, who declared her and her husband to be divorced. Six months later, the man went to where his wife was and found she was already married to another man. In the end, the man “came back, spoke with my family, and I was instructed never ever to write anything for anyone again.”1

The story, though told with a puckish sense of the absurd, raises the serious question of the extent and the limits of the writer’s power: writing other people’s words shapes outcomes in those others’ lives, but in ways the writer cannot fully predict. Just what the boy Farah thought he was doing is not clear. (Was he trying to spare the woman a beating and the humiliation of being dragged back home? Or just shielding her from being hurt by her husband’s brutal words?) But he ended up, for better or worse, precipitating her divorce. The power of writing to intervene in real events here intersects the author’s inability to control what that power does, once it is released into the world as text; an awareness of that power and its limits calls for sober recognition of responsibility toward those people whose stories we bring into writing.

For us, the editors of this dossier, Farah’s words also raise two other sets of questions, one about reporters’ responsibilities generally and the other about the gendered dimensions of human diversity. First, how are our responsibilities as authors of human rights and humanitarian representations to be made concrete and palpable if, unlike the boy Farah, our words are unlikely ever to be answered by a person whose future our words have affected, and if there is no one to forbid us from writing again if we get the story wrong? When we convert what we know about a complicated and unpredictable world into forms that we think our audiences will easily assimilate, are we to be held accountable for shaping their knowledge and hence affecting their ability to make an ethical response?

Second, and for our purposes most important, how does the gender of the people suffering, the reporters of their pain, and those who would respond exert an influence over the content and shape of humanitarian and human rights messages? Farah saw his judgment bent by looking at the threat of harm through the prism of gender and, more specifically, he took the misstep of underestimating a woman’s capacity to shape her own destiny in adverse circumstances, authorizing himself to intervene without her leave instead of trusting her to choose how to protect herself. Though we do not look at the world through the eyes of children, is our judgment about how to navigate between inaction, solidarity, and paternalism much clearer than the boy Farah’s was, when confronted with the knowledge that women and girls are suffering and stand in danger of great harm? There is never a simple formula for resolving the humanitarian responder’s dilemmas. Yet one reason for bringing this collection of articles together is our sense that the critical study of humanitarian and human rights representations may be enhanced by scrutinizing the gendered specificities of the stories we tell about avoidable human suffering from the contributors’ respective disciplines of philosophy, literary criticism, media studies, historical sociology, and anthropology.

The establishment of narrative conventions for the representation of suffering was historically central to the emergence of the humanitarian project, broadly construed as the mobilization of sympathy for humans in severe distress as well as the development of measures aimed at preventing needless suffering.2 One guiding principle of that project has been that, to be effective, humanitarian representations must provide detailed description of an identifiable individual’s injured body.3 A rich and varied body of scholarship has twinned these insights to earlier feminist readings of the injured body and the male gaze by asking: what difference does it make whether the subject body of humanitarian narratives is male or female?4 Taking as their starting point these feminist analyses of representation, the contributors to this dossier examine textual and visual representations that intersect with humanitarianism and human rights in both historical settings and the contemporary world. These representations evoke connections between the suffering of distant others and inequalities of gender and class at home, and then situate these connections within histories of violent domination and exploitation in the colonial and postcolonial world. Each article in this issue enriches our shared basis for a robust interdisciplinary dialogue about the gendered character of humanitarian narrative and its genealogies in the campaigns and reportage of moral reform initiatives past and present.

Gender is understood by the editors of this dossier in terms of feminist theory as a field constituted in dialogue with class, race, age, and other dimensions of human difference. From this vantage point, representation, politics, and economics constitute a whole that structures the intersections of racial, gender, and class inequality. Put more concretely, injustices rooted in gender bias rarely have effects that are felt equally across racial and class boundaries; nor are those injustices reproduced without supporting and being supported by racism and class bias. Through highlighting “gender” and “narrative,” we seek points of convergence in perspective across disciplines through our shared interest in ways that textual and visual representations of suffering humanity are structured by gender. Each contributor makes a special effort to unsettle analytic approaches that would isolate gender from other aspects of human difference.

The articles in this special issue examine how gender, and the racial and class differences with which it intersects, may mold the production and dissemination of knowledge about humanitarian and human rights crises and may invest these representations with powerful public appeal. These articles, taken together, show that as many parallels as divergences may be found between humanitarian and human rights fields today. Distinct institutional identities, conceptual foundations, and political agendas lead some to interpret humanitarianism and human rights as politically competing or even contradictory fields.5Evidence regarding the politics of national security, immigration and asylum policy, and corporate responsibility in recent years sustains David Rieff’s insight that “humanitarian” concern is being increasingly deployed as antipolitics, discursively suppressing rights-based political alternatives, which would pressure leading states and international institutions and support the mobilization of today’s objects of humanitarian aid in ways that would allow them to become tomorrow’s agents of change.6 This said, it is not obvious that the “grown-up” subject position of a rights claimant exerts any stronger or more certain a pull for sympathy or solidarity than the “childlike” position of an aid supplicant. (What stronger moral basis to claim support is there, after all, than the relationship, albeit fictive, of a child to a parent?) Still inadequately theorized is the possibility that moralism and paternalism can be as much about politics as antipolitics—at times perpetuated through the agency of status subordinates as well as superiors.7 Conflicts between the discursive and practical domains of human rights and humanitarianism appear real, even as scholars become increasingly interested in the shared logics and genealogies of these domains, and even as activists and practitioners on either side of this divide also seem increasingly aware that their respective tools rarely suffice on their own. Rather than seeking premature and possibly false resolution of where humanitarian representations leave off and rights-based claims begin, contributors to this special issue foreground conjunctures and divergences between humanitarianism and human rights both historically and as social processes and forces today.

Beyond our shared aim of presenting historically specific, empirically substantiated, and politically engaging analyses of humanitarian and human rights representation, at least three distinct lines of approach may be discerned among the articles that make up this dossier.


Historical Antecedents

What insights into today’s humanitarian and human rights representations and mobilizations can be gained by comparing these with historical antecedents, in the gender-, race-, class-, and age-specific content of images, stories, conceptual framings, character sketches, metaphors, and rhetoric produced by abolitionists, antitrafficking campaigners, and colonial reformers from the late eighteenth through early twentieth centuries? All of the essays in this special issue speak to the overarching question of how it is that people are moved by descriptions of distant suffering (or fail to be moved) to take action aimed at amelioration.8Shared narrative conventions and rhetorical strategies may be traced historically back to eighteenth- through nineteenth-century abolitionism, the common ancestor of humanitarianism and human rights. The work of two of this special issue’s contributors, the sociologist Mimi Sheller and the media scholar Gretchen Soderlund, illustrates how historically specific feminist analysis may add new dimensions to an understanding of the narrative and social conventions encoded in humanitarian and human rights reportage and campaigning.

Mimi Sheller examines British Quaker women’s antislavery organizations in the late eighteenth to mid-nineteenth centuries. Among the first social movements to organize national consumer boycotts of slave-produced commodities, including sugar and cotton, accompanied by promotion of non-slavery-based “free trade” products, these organizations produced gendered discourses connecting the female consumer’s domestic realm and personal taste with dramatizations of the bodily suffering and immoral corruption of enslaved women. The humanitarian gesture of the female consumer was thus linked to the fate of the enslaved through intimate acts pertaining to what one put into and onto the body. Yet the imagery of this humanitarian gesture often reproduced unequal relations between racially coded bodies and reinforced the association of femininity with sympathy, domesticity, and piety. Even so, Sheller’s article foregrounds the continuing relevance of such gendered “inter-embodiments” to strategies that raise consciousness of how global relations are forged through bodily acts and domestic projects that “materialize” and “humanize” market relations.9

Gretchen Soderlund situates her essay against the background of the explosive growth in the last two decades in the number and visibility of media exposés on trafficking and forced prostitution, on the premise that what we know about trafficking is not so much discoveredas it is constructed, by journalists together with feminist and evangelical human rights activists, as an object of public discourse and social concern. While few of us have encountered this alleged traffic in women firsthand, many—including some academics, feminists, journalists, newspaper readers, lawyers, human rights advocates, evangelical Christians, and even former president George W. Bush—are certain a vast organized commerce in women exists. Soderlund asks: How is this certainty produced? Closely reading narrative accounts of firsthand encounters of Western witnesses with sex trafficking, Soderlund explores the linguistic and representational strategies deployed in narratives set on the message that sex trafficking is a “spreading but hidden evil.” Echoing through such reportage today are repetitions of the rhetorical and narrative moves that sustained earlier media-promulgated moral panics about “white slavery” in Victorian Britain and Progressive-era United States.


Analyzing Stories

More than one contributor examines how the gendered specificity of the human in human rights and humanitarianism stands out with particular clarity through analysis of stories(whether well-rounded or fragmentary). It is thanks to specific representational devices that experiences of suffering and the provision of aid are recounted and made to seem genuine and compelling to the reader or viewer.10 Underscored by all the articles is the formidable challenge of imagining and gaining public acceptance for any new kind of story about suffering: is there any possibility of an “immediate” reading of others’ circumstances of suffering, not shaped a priori by the threat scenarios—e.g., “prisoner of conscience,” “enslavement”—that resonate with stories audience members have heard about evil in the historical world and around which the interveners’ institutions are built? The contributions by Kerry Bystrom as well as Elizabeth Swanson Goldberg and Alexandra Schultheis Moore go further to ask how an illusion of immediate connection with a geographically or culturally distant sufferer is textually created and institutionally codified even as particular and complexly determined human experiences are bent to fit established threat scenarios.

Kerry Bystrom explores the productive possibilities and ethical dangers of the intersection of celebrity humanitarianism and intercountry adoption through the lens of Anglo-American media coverage of the pop star Madonna’s adoptions of David Banda (2006) and Chifundo “Mercy” James (2009) from Malawi. Bystrom recognizes that Madonna’s adoption opened up spaces for public discussion on the issues of intercountry adoption and humanitarian aid work, creating the possibility of envisioning global connection in new ways. At the same time, she suggests that the most common media representations (including Madonna’s own film, I Am Because We Are) fall short of this goal. They tend to undercut the agency of the child—thus working counter to Jacqueline Bhabha’s call for the construction of a “child-centered” approach to human rights.11 They also tend to reinforce a neocolonial vision of adoption as a form of “rescue” or “humanitarian intervention,” and in this way may perpetuate racial and gendered hierarchies underlying much relief work as they mystify the financial and affective economies at play in transnational adoption.

Elizabeth Swanson Goldberg and Alexandra Schultheis Moore draw critical attention to the proliferation of fictionalized texts—both literary and multimedia—that speak overtly to human rights claims, situating their essay within the theoretical frameworks of transnational witness literature, through a case study of the multimedia project I Live Here, produced by the actor Mia Kirshner and the graphic designers J. B. MacKinnon, Paul Shoebridge, and Michael Simons. Noting that everything about Kirshner’s project is unsettled—genre, voice, authorship, temporality, purpose—Goldberg and Schultheis Moore outline some problems and possibilities raised by the text’s indeterminacy, focusing on the potential for and limits to transnational feminist witnessing of human rights violations in the context of global capitalism. They give particular consideration to the use of first-person narration in this multiauthored text in order to provide metanarrative commentary on gender as a bridge between “first-” and “third-world” experience.


Political Repercussions

Locating our starting point again in narratives or fragments of narrative, embedded in larger texts (e.g., reports, exposés, photo-essays and documentary films), what light can we shine onthe political repercussions of representation, whether by examining humanitarian and human rights narratives through the prism of gender, or their intersections with racial, class, and age difference? In giving sustained attention to how threats to safety, dignity, and rights are discursively standardized and the difficulties that flow from molding accounts of particular individuals’ or groups’ life situations to fit the resulting threat paradigms, essays by Diana Tietjens Meyers and Samuel Martínez link feminist readings of the politics of representation with human rights theory. Why do some behaviors become such enduring subjects of human rights and humanitarian concern and not others? What narratives do they tell that have such resonance over time?

Two victim paradigms emerged in the late twentieth century along with the international human rights regime: the pathetic victim paradigm and the heroic victim paradigm. Diana Tietjens Meyers’s essay troubles the unspoken criteria for admission into either paradigm—innocence, nonviolence, and passivity—by asking how these criteria delimit what kinds of violations and categories of victims can be recognized within a human rights discourse. She develops her arguments specifically in relation to the limit cases of sex workers and death row prisoners. Sex workers are singled out for sympathy only if forced to do sex work, are innocent girls, or are ignorant of the trafficking system and helplessly fall prey to smugglers. Among death row prisoners, the only ones who qualify as bona fide “victims” are those proven innocent (usually through DNA evidence) after conviction and sentencing. The innocence criterion embedded in the two paradigms is questionable, not only because of the real-world exclusions that it abets but also due to the gender-specific social codes and limitations on agency that “innocence” enforces. Meyers urges that the innocence criterion be replaced by a burdened agency criterion, which would allow for a more capacious understanding of who counts as a bearer of human rights and under what conditions right-holders become victims of rights violations.

Samuel Martínez examines stories told about contemporary slavery, with particular attention to visual media reports that have revived long-dormant allegations that Haitian nationals and people of Haitian ancestry are being held as slaves on the sugar plantations of Haiti’s Caribbean neighbor, the Dominican Republic. He asserts that the narratives of rescue that dominate antislavery discourse today are guided by a masculinist politics, in which men but never women can stand up for their rights. In miniaturized form, these stories also sustain a global human rights Machtpolitik: a benevolent West is discursively positioned as the world’s sole possible force for justice. According to Martínez, this occurs through a construction of the figure of benevolent male rescuer, one opposed to enfeebled men on the one hand and females in peril on the other. This masculinist politics skips lightly over the growth in the last two decades of a social movement of Dominicans of Haitian descent, who are organizing across the country in defense of their own rights but without the protection of expatriate patrons. Martínez thus expands our vision of the gender of humanitarian narrative beyond “women’s issues” proper and expands the potential for research to deepen scholarly understanding of human rights reportage and campaigning through attention not just to texts but the historical and sociological contexts of textual production and dissemination.

The contributors to this special issue are of course not the first to ask what kinds of “victims” seem to be most favored by humanitarian and human rights reportage.12 The writings of feminist theorists such as Chandra Talpade Mohanty and Gayatri Spivak and subsequent scholarship inform contributors’ persistent questioning of the patriarchal contours, racist governing suppositions, and colonialist genealogies of humanitarian and human rights discourses.13 Yet both the specificity of the present as well as continuities with the past are recognized in the essays that follow. The contributors to this special issue strive to unsettle easy judgments, which result from reaching no further analytically than invoking the (bad) colonialist provenance of the presuppositions that guide global outreach or the (good) “grassroots” nature of female-led contestatory mobilizations. Such resolution seems at the very least premature, before enough is known about how imperial narratives and fables of patriarchy work as texts and otherwise explain more fully why these stories have enduring appeal (in the West, at least), questions to which each essay in this issue contributes its own perspective.

Antitrafficking, ethical consumption, and the imperative to respond to sundry conflict-based crises as “humanitarian emergencies” all invite comparison as manifestations of a larger humanitarian antipolitics: all tend to portray sufferers as pure victims (blameless of wrong and stripped of all agency) and to approach suffering at the level of immediate relief rather than root causes. Yet it seems hasty simply to dismiss as “antipolitics” today’s diverse morally driven, largely woman-led political agendas when one considers the important gains registered—in terms of feminist political mobilization at home at least—by colonial moral reform movements of the nineteenth century.14 Of course, that was then and this is now. It is for many reasons understandable why the nexus of consumption-mediated reform, woman-centered mobilization, domestic propriety, and moral purity should have been a compelling frame of political action for women of the nineteenth century, not least of which that it was virtually the only form of political action available to “respectable women” of those generations past. By contrast with that era, multiple modes of political action are now open to women. When much else in the world and in women’s lives has changed, why have moralistic tropes and modes of activism originating in the late eighteenth century reemerged as a favored means of effecting change in favor of producers at the distant sources of global commodity chains? These include the blood-sugar trope (by which we imagine the commodities that we ingest or wear to be tainted with the producer’s blood) and the exercise of boycott and consumer choice in favor of ethically produced goods. No easy resolution seems at hand for the question of what the enduring influence of colonial patriarchal narratives is in our imaginings of north-south political, economic, and cultural exchange, nor of how that influence makes itself felt in today’s vastly changed world.

All the same, it still seems pertinent to observe, as Judith Walkowitz did in her historical study of white slavery exposés in Victorian Britain, that walls of silence surrounding coerced exploitation may be broken down while leaving intact other silences about major economic and social dimensions of oppression, a theme that recurs in a number of this dossier’s articles.15 Women today, as they did during the Victorian era, bear a disproportionate share of the human costs that ensue when illicit mobilities and enterprises are policed as if the abuses that occur in the illicit spheres were the work solely of individual evildoers rather than the products of law designating whole geographic and demographic sectors outside its scope.16 It is within such overarching contexts, of neither simple continuity nor decisive rupture with nineteenth- through early twentieth-century models of patriarchy, that we understand the continuing importance of issues of inter-embodiment, subaltern voice, and the ethics of representation, pioneered in feminist scholarship of the 1980s and 1990s.17 That those concerns are reflected in each of this dossier’s essays suggests at the very least that north-south inequality is still pertinent to scholarly considerations of humanitarian and human rights reportage and campaigning. The contributors thus collectively sketch a direction for future research on the gender politics of humanitarian and human rights representation, based on feminist questioning of the terms of scholarly and public debate, detailed historical and sociological contextualization of texts and images, and close readings that pay attention to continuing symmetries as well as points of rupture between stories of peril and redemption and their encompassing texts, discourses, and sociocultural milieus.



The contributors to this dossier participated in the May 2009 workshop “The Gender of Humanitarian Narrative: Genealogies of Humanitarian/Human Rights Reportage, Outreach and Campaigning,” sponsored by the University of Connecticut Humanities Institute and Human Rights Institute’s Foundations of Humanitarianism program. We thank all the workshop participants and wish to convey particular appreciation to Emma Gilligan, Alexis Dudden, Kerry Bystrom, Eleni Coundouriotis, Rachel Jackson, Françoise Dussart, Glenn Mitoma, and Richard Wilson for their organizational guidance and support.

1. We thank Glenn Mitoma for sharing an advance copy of Farah’s comments, delivered at the October 2008 conference “In the Balance: Humanitarianism and Responsibility,” sponsored by the University of Connecticut’s Foundations of Humanitarianism program.

2. Lynn Hunt, Inventing Human Rights: A History (New York: Norton, 2007); Thomas Keenan, Fables of Responsibility: Aberrations and Predicaments in Ethics and Politics(Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1997); Joseph R. Slaughter, Human Rights, Inc.: The World Novel, Narrative Form, and International Law (New York: Fordham University Press, 2007). See also Thomas W. Laqueur, “Mourning, Pity, and the Work of Narrative in the Making of `Humanity,'” in Humanitarianism and Suffering: The Mobilization of Empathy, ed. Richard Ashby Wilson and Richard D. Brown (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2009), 31–57; and Joseph R. Slaughter, “Humanitarian Reading,” in ibid., 88–107.

3. Laqueur, “Bodies, Details and the Humanitarian Narrative,” in The New Cultural History, ed. Lynn Hunt (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1989), 176–202.

4. Karen Halttunen, “Humanitarianism and the Pornography of Pain in Anglo-American Culture,” American Historical Review 100, no. 2 (1995): 303–34; Wendy Hesford and Wendy Kozol, eds., Just Advocacy: Women’s Human Rights, Transnational Feminism, and the Politics of Representation (New Brunswick, N.J.: Rutgers University Press, 2004); Elizabeth Swanson Goldberg, Beyond Terror: Gender, Narrative, Human Rights (New Brunswick, N.J.: Rutgers University Press, 2007); Inderpal Grewal, Transnational America: Feminisms, Diasporas, Neoliberalisms (Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press, 2003); Kay Schaffer and Sidonie Smith, Human Rights and Narrative Lives: The Ethics of Recognition(Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2004).

5. Wilson and Brown, “Introduction,” in idem, eds., Humanitarianism, 4–9.

6. David Rieff, A Bed for the Night: Humanitarianism in Crisis (New York: Simon and Schuster, 2002), esp. chap. 3. See also Lila Abu-Lughod, “Do Muslim Women Really Need Saving? Anthropological Reflections on Cultural Relativism and Its Others,” American Anthropologist 104, no. 3 (2002): 783–90; David Kennedy, The Dark Sides of Virtue: Reassessing International Humanitarianism (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2004); Liisa Malkki, “Speechless Emissaries: Refugees, Humanitarianism, and Dehistoricization,”Cultural Anthropology 11, no. 3 (1996): 377–404; Miriam Ticktin, “Where Ethics and Politics Meet: The Violence of Humanitarianism in France,” American Ethnologist 33, no. 1 (2006): 33–49.

7. The sociologist Elizabeth Holzer, drawing on her field research on social protest among Liberian refugees in Ghana, reports that refugee camp residents preferred to couch demands in a filial idiom of children supplicating their mother (the aid organization) for unmet needs, even though they were emboldened to protest in part because they had been repeatedly coached by aid workers about their rights. Elizabeth Holzer, “Care-giving and Repression in a West African Refugee Camp,” Department of Sociology colloquium, University of Connecticut, March 16, 2010.

8. Kennedy, Dark Sides; Luc Boltanski, Distant Suffering: Morality, Media and Politics(Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999); Stanley Cohen, States of Denial: Knowing about Atrocities and Suffering (Cambridge: Polity, 2001); Arthur Kleinman, Veena Das, and Margaret Lock, eds., Social Suffering (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1997); Didier Fassin, “Inequality of Lives, Hierarchies of Humanity: Moral Commitments and Ethical Dilemmas of Humanitarianism,” in In the Name of Humanity: The Government of Threat and Care, ed. Ilana Feldman and Miriam Ticktin (Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press, 2010), 238–55.

9. On “inter-embodiment,” see Sara Ahmed, Strange Encounters: Embodied Others in Postcoloniality (London: Routledge, 2000), 47–49.

10. Essays published in the Journal of Human Rights Practice 2, no. 2 (2010) explicitly examine the uses and limits of narrative and the responsibility that human rights practitioners have “to the story.” See esp. Paul Gready, “Introduction: `Responsibility to the Story,'” 177–90; Richard Mandler, “Words from the Heart: Researching People’s Stories,” 252–70; Eileen Pittaway, Linda Bartolomei, and Richard Hugman, “`Stop Stealing Our Stories’: The Ethics of Research with Vulnerable Groups,” 229–51.

11. Jacqueline Bhabha, “The `Mere Fortuity of Birth?’: Children, Borders, and the Right to Citizenship,” in Migrations and Mobilities, ed. Seyla Benhabib and Judith Resnik (New York: New York University Press, 2009), 187–227.

12. Abu-Lughod, “Muslim Women”; Malkki, “Speechless Emissaries”; Rieff, Bed for the Night; Makau Mutua, “Savages, Victims, and Saviors: The Metaphor of Human Rights,”Harvard International Law Journal 42, no. 1 (2001): 201–45.

13. Chandra Talpade Mohanty, Feminism without Borders: Decolonizing Theory, Practicing Solidarity (Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press, 2003); Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak, “Righting Wrongs,” South Atlantic Quarterly 193, no. 2/3 (2004): 523–81. See also Grewal,Transnational America; Abu-Lughod, “Muslim Women”; Mutua, “Savages”; Erica Bornstein,The Spirit of Development: Protestant NGOs, Morality, and Economics in Zimbabwe(Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2005); Ticktin, “Where Ethics and Politics Meet”; idem, “Sexual Violence as the Language of Border Control: Where French Feminist and Anti-Immigrant Rhetoric Meet,” Signs: Journal of Women and Culture in Society 33, no. 4 (2008): 863–89.

14. Antoinette Burton, Burdens of History: British Feminists, Indian Women, and Imperial Culture, 1865–1915 (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1994); Catherine Hall,White, Male and Middle-Class: Explorations in Feminism and History (London: Routledge, 1992); Lata Mani, Contentious Traditions: The Debate on Sati in Colonial India (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1998).

15. Judith Walkowitz, City of Dreadful Delight: Narratives of Sexual Danger in Late-Victorian London (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1992), 94.

16. To cite just a few works on one major issue, feminist scholars and advocates of sex worker rights led the way in denouncing the paternalistic and moralistic premises of antitrafficking activism: see Wendy Chapkis, “Trafficking, Migration, and the Law: Protecting Innocents, Punishing Immigrants,” Gender and Society 17, no. 6 (2003): 923–37; Kamala Kempadoo, ed., Trafficking and Prostitution Reconsidered: New Perspectives on Migration, Sex Work, and Human Rights (Boulder: Paradigm, 2005); Gretchen Soderlund, “Running from the Rescuers: New U.S. Crusades against Sex Trafficking and the Rhetoric of Abolition,” NWSA Journal 17, no. 3 (2005): 64–87; Global Alliance Against Traffic in Women, Collateral Damage: The Impact of Anti-Trafficking Measures on Human Rights around the World(Bangkok: GAATW, 2007),–Final/singlefile–CollateralDamagefinal.pdf (accessed March 24, 2011).

17. Ahmed, Strange Encounters; Linda Alcoff, “The Problem of Speaking for Others,”Cultural Critique 20 (Winter 1991): 5–32; Chandra Talpade Mohanty, “Under Western Eyes: Feminist Scholarship and Colonial Discourses,” Feminist Review 30 (Autumn 1988): 61–88; Elaine Scarry, The Body in Pain: The Making and Unmaking of the World (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1984); Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak, “Can the Subaltern Speak?” in Marxism and the Interpretation of Culture, ed. Cary Nelson and Lawrence Grossberg (Champaign: University of Illinois Press, 1988), 271–313.


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About Kathryn Libal

Assistant professor of community organization in the School of Social Work at the University of Connecticut. She earned her Ph.D. in anthropology at the University of Washington and wrote her dissertation on child welfare, children's rights, and state formation in Turkey in the 1930s. She recently co-edited, with Shareen Hertel, Human Rights in the United States: Beyond Exceptionalism (Cambridge, 2011). In the past three years she has conducted research on international non-governmental advocacy on behalf of Iraqi forced migrants and has published several book chapters and articles on the basis of this work.

About Samuel Martinez

is a cultural anthropologist who teaches anthropology and Latin American studies at the University of Connecticut. He is the author of two ethno-graphic monographs and several peer-reviewed articles on the migration and labor and minority rights of Haitian nationals and people of Haitian ancestry in the Dominican Republic. He is also editor of International Migration and Human Rights (California, 2009). In his current research and writing, he brings critical scrutiny to northern human rights solidarity with Haitian-ancestry people in the Dominican Republic between 1978 and the present.