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Research and representation


Excerpts from 'The Prospects and Perils of Quantification', held in October 2015 at the University of Sheffield.

Over the last year, Beyond Trafficking and Slavery has published a string of critiques exposing the questionable research methods, phony ‘statistics’, and inaccurate analyses currently propping up misleading depictions of modern slavery, forced labour, and human trafficking. These articles have documented a widespread and fundamental problem: governments, activists, corporations and other actors routinely make claims and develop policies that, from a methodological and evidentiary standpoint, don’t stack up. In particular, the research and evidence base underpinning new national laws and policies remains dangerously thin.

Launched as part of BTS ‘possible futures’ project, this new series on research and representations will provide a public forum for discussion, debate, and practical advice on how to take things forward. Our authors will consider how to strengthen the evidence base on contemporary exploitation and unfree labour, as well as how to surmount institutional reluctance to dissenting ideas in order to successfully impact policy. Read on...



Becky is dead

Becky’s life represents the world in microcosm. She isn’t the first of the migrants I’ve worked with to have died and will unlikely be the last. Becky was 28 years old.

Partners, payoffs and power plays: researching mobility across north-south divides

Research across multiple sites comes with many rewards, but the partnerships required for multi-sited work often reinforce power imbalances in ways that compromise our scholarship and ethical policy engagements.

The promises and pitfalls of mobile polling

Mobile polling could revolutionize how civil society and human rights groups operate—if it’s done right. A contribution to the openGlobalRights debate on public opinion and human rights. Español

De invisible a digital: la digitalización de documentos históricos en peligro en Brasil

Al no contar con documentos, gran parte de la historia de quienes fueron esclavizados está destinada a perderse. La digitalización ofrece una vía para preservar de manera rápida documentos que se encuentran en estado de deterioro. ¿Qué pasos debemos seguir para organizar un proyecto de digitalización a gran escala? English

From invisible to digital: digitising endangered historical documents in Brazil

Without documents, much of the history of the enslaved is lost. Digitisation offers a way to preserve rapidly deteriorating documents, but how does one actually set up a large-scale digitisation project? Español

Why study the ‘bad guys’?

To understand violence we must speak to those who commit violence. Conducting research in conflict zones is challenging, and to do it well we must challenge the dictums found in methods handbooks.

Researching surrogacy online: the challenges and opportunities of digital ethnography

Online discussions on support websites, in which geographically dispersed people communicate about shared concerns, can yield valuable data for fieldwork when looked at correctly.

Slave narratives from the past

The existence of more than 200 autobiographical writings by former slaves gives us a crucial window in the world of legal slavery, however reading them is tricky.

Listening to the enslaved

Archives containing courtroom testimony by the enslaved can be valuable resources for scholars of slavery.

Methodological challenges in the business of forced labour

Most forced labour takes place in business contexts, yet the business logics of exploitation are rarely explored. There are ways to do this well.

Is the 'impact agenda' stifling methodological innovation?

Changes to the ways universities are financed and evaluated are impacting academic research practices and inhibiting innovative research into forced labour.

Why (and how!) we need to talk to ‘the victims’

We’ll never overturn the trafficking narratives backed by big (and bad) data unless we take the time to speak with the workers and ‘victims’ themselves.

Follow the evidence: our series on 'research and representation'

BTS editors introduce the research methods stream of our ‘possible futures’ project, arguing that a stronger and more accurate knowledge base is necessary to advance advocacy efforts.

Can snowball sampling estimate human trafficking?

Snowball sampling is a popular method of researching hidden populations, but its limitations make it the wrong choice for counting or describing the global population of trafficked humans. 

Beyond SlaveryThe editors of Beyond Trafficking and Slavery would like to thank The British Academy for the Humanities and Social Sciences for its generous sponsorship of this stream (Grant EN140036).

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