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Speaking truth to power? The political appeal of ‘modern slavery’

When: Tuesday, 31 July 2018 - Tuesday, 31 July 2018
Where: Braamfontein Campus East
Senate Room, 2nd Floor, Solomon Mahlangu House
Start time:18:00


Professor Joel Quirk will deliver his inaugural lecture on ‘modern slavery’.

Calling something ‘slavery’ is a popular way of seeking to draw attention and investment to specific causes and issues. One recent example of this strategy is the category of ‘modern slavery’, which has unexpectedly emerged as a major source of popular fascination and political mobilisation since the mid-1990s. Over the years, numerous governments and activists have declared their intention to end slavery once and for all. However, there are a number of fundamental differences between transatlantic enslavement and ‘modern slavery’. In stark contrast to historical campaigns to end legal enslavement, which were firmly aimed at the profits and privileges of the rich and powerful, campaigns today rarely pose a direct threat to major political and economic interests, particularly in the Global North. Governments and corporations feel comfortable supporting campaigns against exceptional cases of ‘modern slavery’ – rather than broader campaigns for migrant, worker or women’s rights – because they selectively focus on deviant criminals and ‘bad apples’, thereby pushing larger global systems of exploitation, violence, discrimination and privilege into the background. High profile campaigns against ‘modern slavery' have secured support because they do not rock the boat. How much can a campaign realistically accomplish if it is popular because it doesn’t make waves?

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