Invitation to the School of Languages and Social Sciences Distinguished Visitor Lecture

Monday 27th November 2017, 5pm, in G63
Lecture begins at 5pm, refreshments will be available.
Performing the Victim Label:
Trafficked Women, Resilience and the Spaces of German Criminal Law
Dr Sharron A. FitzGerald

Abstract: In this paper, I discuss my qualitative study of German law and policy responses to human trafficking and prostitution. The data I present in this article are a subset based on in camera participant observations of judges deposing women who are witnesses in criminal proceedings against their traffickers. I use my analysis to develop and inform an different account of trafficked women’s experiences–one that prioritises the material and discursive insights offered by focusing on their narrative accounts of their ‘lived’ experiences of trafficking. By concentrating upon trafficked women’s words, I contribute to interdisciplinary, feminist work that acknowledges the complex interconnections of vulnerability and agency in their lives but rejects essentialised accounts of their identities as ‘victims’. My approach concentrates on how the criminal law’s construction–and privileging–of gendered notions of ‘real’ and ‘ideal’ victims of trafficking is both a site of trafficked women’s subordination and a source of their agency. Normative discourses about ‘real’ trafficked women created a specific narrative environment shaping how my research participants could speak about their lives. And yet, I argue they did not completely define it. Drawing on Judith Butler’s analysis of the complex transactions between subjectification and subversive agency and emerging debates in the health arena in psychosocial theory on resilience I ask: How do my research participants engage with and manipulate the law’s own institutional gender logic to assume representational authority of their identity? In order to answer this questions, it is necessary to unravel the delicate equilibrium between things they must convey to the judge and those things that must not be spoken before the court if they are to ensure continued state support as victims of trafficking. I argue the process of arranging their performance of self provides an archetype of Butler’s (1993; 1997, 2000) interpretation of assujetissement–the process of becoming subordinated by power and well as the process of becoming a subject. This process illuminate how my research participants construct their narratives in the context of a particular times and places using particular themes and plot lines. I submit the ability to be responsive to the court’s expectations from within its own hegemony is an expression of their agency and developing resilience.

Biography: Dr Sharron A. FitzGerald teaches in gender and migration studies at Ludwig-Maximilian University, Munich, Germany. She is a Research Fellow at the International Victimology Institute at Tilburg University, The Netherlands. Her research interests are interdisciplinary, including gender, human smuggling and trafficking, prostitution, social justice, neo-liberal governance and securitisation. Sharron is a member of EU funded project ‘ProsPol’ that examines features and effects of prostitution policies at the European, national and local levels.