Elastic Victimhood: The State, NGOs, and Negotiating the Parameters of Anti-trafficking
This chapter critically traces the evolution and parameters of the Singapore government’s current approach to human trafficking and migrant worker non-governmental organisation (NGO) responses to this, which in turn have shaped their own work on the issue. The government’s approach is characterised in this discussion by what I label ‘pretence politics’, meaning that the logic underlying anti-trafficking activities and responses is one of managing competing interests, rather than attending to the substantive goal of reducing the extent of human trafficking and/or attending to the needs of exploited migrants themselves. A key element of pretence politics is performance, in which the contradictions of competing moral and political impulses and interests are managed—if not necessarily resolved—through public staging of anti-trafficking. I identify the dual impulses of widening and narrowing victimhood—or ‘elastic victimhood’—as competing characterisations of trafficking in the city-state put forward by NGOs and the state respectively.
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