UB Humanities Institute Presents Conference on Human Trafficking

Release Date: October 15, 2007


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Dominick LaCapra will discuss "Humans and Other Animals" Oct. 26 as part of the Humanities Institute's conference on human trafficking.

BUFFALO, N.Y. -- Slavery, sex trade, child labor, child soldiers, forced migration, trading in body parts (including genetic material) -- even many forms of international adoption -- represent the practice of human trafficking.

This is the recruitment, transportation, transfer, harboring and receipt of human beings for the purpose of exploitation, using a variety of illicit means from threat and coercion to fraud, deception and debt bondage.

The known and forgotten meanings and histories of this devastating practice and its different cultural milieus and complex forms will be addressed during "Human Trafficking," the Third Annual International Conference in the Humanities organized by the Humanities Institute at the University at Buffalo.

The conference will be held Oct. 26-27 in the Center for the Arts on the UB North (Amherst) Campus. Attendance will be free of charge and open to the public; registration is not required. Talks will begin at 10 a.m. each day.

Several of the most distinguished scholars in the humanities -- including Michelle Goodwin, Aamir Mufti, Dominick LaCapra and Julia Davidson -- will discuss not only the facts of human trafficking as we know them (or think we know them), but the problems presented by memory, historiography, artistic representation and political activism when we try to comprehend its myriad historical and contemporary faces.

The conference will end with a roundtable discussion with speakers and discussion moderators facilitated by David Castillo, associate professor, Department of Romance Languages and Literatures in the UB College of Arts and Sciences.

Conference coordinators at UB are Castillo and Kari Winter, professor of American studies.

For information, including details on a series of pre-conference talks by human-rights activist Ishmeal Beah; leading French Marxist philosopher Étienne Balibar; historian Vincent Carretta, an expert in black slavery in the English-speaking world; and Irene Zubaida Khan, general secretary of Amnesty International, call the UB Humanities Institute at 645-2711, ext. 1169, or go to the conference Web site at http://humanitiesinstitute.buffalo.edu/about/annualconference.shtml.

"Most of us recognize that the concepts of the human and of human rights are destroyed by the practice of human trafficking," says Ewa Ziarek, Ph.D., professor in the UB Department of Comparative Literatures and director of the Humanities Institute. "We know, too, that in order to continue, it must rely upon what Kevin Bales, the world's leading expert on human trafficking, calls 'disposable people.'"

Ziarek points out that this exploitation and the struggles against it are at the center of debates about globalization, internationalism, human rights and pre-modern and modern power, and that in addition to known practices, there are new forms of human trafficking not yet recognized by law.

"These practices present difficult and varied challenges for ethics and politics," she says, "in part because they are already inscribed or presupposed in such fundamental concepts of Western political and social analysis as the social contract, kinship, forms of commodity, racism, exchange and globalization."

The conference will open at 10 a.m. Oct. 26 with a talk titled "Humans and Other Animals" by intellectual historian Dominick LaCapra, Ph.D., Bryce and Edith M. Bowmar Professor of Humanistic Studies at Cornell University and a member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters. Ziarek will serve as discussion moderator.

LaCapra's extensive work in critical theory, history, identity and cultural experience is widely referenced in several humanistic and social-scientific disciplines. His recent books include "History, Politics and the Novel: Soundings in Critical Theory" and "Writing History, Writing Trauma."

His talk will be followed at 11:30 a.m. by "New Slavery, Old Binaries," a presentation by sociologist Julia O'Connell Davidson, Ph.D., of the University of Nottingham, who has been involved in research on various aspects of the commercial sex industry since 1993. The post-lecture discussion will be moderated by Marieme Lo, assistant professor in the UB Department of Global Gender Studies, formerly the Department of Women's Studies.

Davidson is the author of "Children in the Global Sex Trade," "Children in the Sex Trade in China (2001), "Prostitution, Power and Freedom (1998)" and other major works.

At 2 p.m., Sandra R. Joshel, Ph.D., a classicist who has written extensively on the subject of slavery and women in the Roman Empire, will present a talk, "'With This Wet Clay, You Can Make Whatever You Please': The Sale of Slaves in Ancient Rome." Follow-up discussion will be moderated by Neil Coffee, assistant professor in the UB Department of Classics.

An associate professor of history at University of Washington, Joshel is the author of "Work, Identity and Legal Status at Rome" and "Slavery in Roman Literature" (for the "Cambridge World History of Slavery") and co-editor of "Women and Slaves in Greco-Roman Culture: Differential Equations" (1998) and other articles and book chapters on the Roman Empire and slavery.

Joshel's talk will be followed at 3:30 p.m. by a presentation by Winter titled "Wills and Possessions." Discussion will be moderated by Timothy Dean, UB associate professor of English.

Winter is the editor of "The Blind African Slave, or Memoirs of Boyrereau Brinch, Nicknamed Jeffrey Brace" (2005), and the author of "Subjects of Slavery, Agents of Change: Women and Power in Gothic Novels and Slave Narratives, 1790-1865."

Among her research interests are the history and literature of transatlantic slavery, slavery and race in New England. She is the author of numerous articles in the fields of feminist, African-American, Caribbean and Native-American cultural studies.

Her research centers on human quests for physical well-being and the ways oppression is written on the body through trauma, deprivation, violence and degradation; how oppressed peoples attempt to endure and to affirm the value of their bodies; and the myriad aspects of human quests for intellectual freedom.

This semester, in conjunction with the conference, Winter is teaching a graduate seminar in human trafficking that looks at the phenomenon within the histories of slavery, race, gender and empire.

The second day of the conference will open at 10 a.m. with a talk by Aamir Mufti, Ph.D., associate professor in the Department of Comparative Literature at UCLA, titled "The Missing Homeland of Edward Said: Person and Place in Globalization." Laurelyn Whitt, a professor in the departments of Philosophy and Integrated Studies at Utah Valley State College, will moderate the discussion

Mufti is recognized as one of the most interesting new voices in colonial and postcolonial literary and cultural studies. He is the author of "Enlightenment in the Colony: The Jewish Question and Dilemmas in Postcolonial Culture," in which he contends that the legacy of the Jewish question in Europe informs and shapes the contemporary crisis of secularism in postcolonial societies. He is known as well for articles on secularism, minority cultures, blasphemy, the post-literate public sphere, the politics of form in modern Urdu literature, imperial war as spectacle and Europe's Islamic crisis.

At 11:30 a.m., attorney and bioethicist Michelle Goodwin, J.D., LL.M, will present an address titled "Obscuring the Self While Disentangling the Body: The Politics of Correctness." The discussion moderator will be Keith Griffler, associate professor, UB Department of African American Studies

Goodwin is one of only a few scholars engaged in the critical analysis of race and medicine. She is the author of "Black Markets: The Supply and Demand of Body Parts," a disturbing examination of the failure of the organ-donation process in the American health-care system -- a failure that continues to provoke the sale of human organs.

Everett Fraser Professor of Law at the University of Minnesota, Goodwin also holds academic appointments in the university's medical school and School of Public Health.

She is a visiting faculty member at the University of Chicago Law School for 2007-08 and served previously as Wicklander Chair in Ethics in the DePaul University College of Law, where she founded the Center for the Study of Race and Bioethics. She is editing a book on baby markets and developing a curriculum on genetic property and the law.

Conference sponsors, all at UB, are the Baldy Center for Law and Social Policy; the Center for the Study of Psychoanalysis and Culture; the Dean's Office, College of Arts and Sciences; the Institute for Research and Education on Women and Gender; the departments of African American Studies, American Studies, Anthropology, Classics, Comparative Literature, English, Global Gender Studies, History, Philosophy, Romance Languages and Literatures; the Eugenio Donato Professor of Comparative Literature; and the Julian Park Chair of Comparative Literature.

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