Pardis Mahdavi

Anthropology Prof. Pardis Mahdav

From Trafficking to Terror: Constructing a Global Social Problem is the latest book from Associate Prof. of Anthropology Pardis Mahdavi. Published in January, the volume is part of the Routledge "Framing 21st Century Social Issues series.

In the book, Mahdavi examines how the war on terror and policies to combat human trafficking have collided. "In the U.S.," says Mahdavi, "the media and politicians have conflated the two. In some ways, the war on trafficking has become the hyper-feminized antidote to the hyper-masculinized war on terror in our discourse. What's new," she explains, "is an increase in the moral panic about these issues fanned by politicians and Hollywood starlets, which has led to policies and outreach programs that make the situation worse for those vulnerable to trafficking."

One example she cites is the impact of anti-trafficking laws in the Philippines, which prohibit unmarried women under 30 years old from migrating for work. Since people still need to feed their families and there's not enough work, she says more are turning to smuggling and traffickers.

In From Trafficking to Terror, Mahdavi juxtaposes lived experiences with current paradigms, policies and rescue rhetoric, and she presents the need to challenge the trafficking and terror paradigm and rethink approaches to the large-scale challenges these discourses have created.

"One important step," says Mahdavi, "is an expanded understanding of what human trafficking is. The current definition in U.S. law regarding trafficking in persons is very race-, class- and gender-biased. The law would have you believe that all human trafficking is sex trafficking, It's not all about sex work. When I interviewed sex workers in Iran and followed them to Dubai, they negotiated everything. They had freedom to come and go. Conversely, the many male construction workers and domestic workers find themselves in coercive and abusive work situations, yet they are never imagined as trafficked and thus have little recourse through human rights law."

The book grew out of her experiences as a fellow at the Google Ideas think/do tank, where she looked at the intersections of trafficking and terrorism, and what the technology industry can and should be doing to help combat trafficking.

Mahdavi is the author of two books, Passionate Uprisings: Iran's Sexual Revolution (Stanford University Press, 2008) and Gridlock: Labor, Migration and Human Trafficking in Dubai (Stanford University Press, 2011), and several scholarly articles. In addition to Google, she has been an American Council of Learned Societies Fellow and a Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars Fellow.

Her research interests include gendered labor, migration, sexuality, human rights, youth culture, transnational feminism and public health in the context of changing political structures.

She is currently researching the effect of trafficking on families, which can include babies separated from their mothers, stateless children and mothers threatened with their children coming to harm.

Related Link: 

"The family detention complex – moving beyond the trafficking debate," by Prof. Pardis Mahdavi, Thompson Reuters Foundation, Dec. 2013