11: Beyond Victim-Centric Research: Participatory Action Research in a Trafficking ‘Hotspot’ of Nepal

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‘Human trafficking’ represents a complex global concern plagued by definitional ambiguities, ideological disagreements, and the (un)intended harmful consequences of anti-trafficking measures. Despite well-established critical scholarship that exposes the ‘collateral damage’ caused by these measures, research funding continues to support top down research endeavours aimed at identifying, rescuing, sorting, labelling, classifying, and rehabilitating vulnerable people on the move. These colonial forms of research often justify harmful anti-trafficking measures; producing new measures that often neglect the experiences and perceptions of the targets of such interventions. Whilst it is recognised that anti-trafficking research carries a problematic political epistemology, researchers often argue that there is a need for more research on ‘trafficking victims’ or ‘survivors’. In this chapter, I caution against exclusive victim-centred research, which may deepen boundaries between deserving and undeserving subjects of knowledge and protection. To address this concern, I provide a detailed account in this chapter of an academic Participatory Action Research (PAR) conducted in a post-disaster Himalayan location in Nepal, often stigmatized as a ‘hotspot’ of human trafficking. This PAR engages with people considered as targets of anti-trafficking who are attempting to undo the stigma of trafficking attached to their place. In this chapter, I illustrate the messy sites, capturing tensions, failures, and emotionally charged moments that lead to disruptions during the research process. These disruptions raise questions about both the perception and translation of dense power relations and the significance of the knowledge produced amid multiplicity for everyone involved in the research process. Through this chapter, I advocate for an inclusive and situated approach to trafficking research that acknowledges the full spectrum of mobility and labour experiences, challenging dominant trafficking research that deepen boundaries between victims and non-victims.

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