Volume 93, #3

Summer 2020


Gender Panics in the Global South

phone: 202-994-3215  e-mail: ifer@gwu.edu


Volume 93, #3 • Summer 2020



Gender Panics in the Global South



by Jennifer Cole, University of Chicago

by Erin V. Moore, Ohio State University


Moral Security: Anti-trafficking and the Humanitarian State in South India

Kimberly Walters, California State University, Long Beach

ABSTRACT—This article argues that global panic over sex trafficking animates a mode of global governmentality that fuses together otherwise contradictory registers of care and punishment in the disciplining of women who sell sex. This mode of governmentality, termed here “moral security,” foregrounds feminine sexuality as the site of greatest social risk and needful intervention. By conflating sex work with sex trafficking, moral security enables the humanitarian state to categorize all women who sell sex as victims requiring rescue, even if only from themselves. The urgency and fervor of the trafficking panic allows moral security to fuse together apparent contradictions into unwieldy amalgams: criminal victim, forced rescue, and caring punishment. To accomplish this, moral security deploys two key registers of engagement with women targeted for intervention: paternalism and bureaucratic indifference. Paternalism facilitates the possibility of harming women in the name of helping them; it is the affective glue that affixes transnational anti-trafficking metanarratives about criminality to the ambiguous realities of everyday sex work. Bureaucratic indifference further serves to deepen the harms of paternalism by disregarding and prolonging them, sometimes to the point of turning state violence into state murder. A patchwork of highly variable and often arbitrarily administered state trafficking initiatives taken in aggregate produce a state effect in which India as a whole is assessed, ranked, deplored, or petted by transnational philanthrocapitalists and other more powerful states. The state violence experienced by sex workers targeted by anti-traffickers becomes the basis for India’s claim to good governance within the framework of moral security. Action “against trafficking” is translated into numbers of shelters built, victims rescued, and families reunited, which provide easily legible metrics that add evidentiary flesh to the bones of India’s place in a global moral hierarchy of states. [Keywords: Moral panic, sex trafficking, sex work, global governance, the state, NGOs, humanitarianism]


What the Miniskirt Reveals: Sex Panics, Women’s Rights, and Pulling Teeth in Urban Uganda

Erin V. Moore, Ohio State University

ABSTRACT—From Tom Wolfe’s “me generation” to the imputed digital narcissism of millennials, cultural critics have interpreted American neoliberalism as producing a crisis of hyper-individualism characterized by greed, selfishness, and a general incapacity to cooperate with others. This article draws on ethnographic fieldwork with an American intentional community, Oak Haven, to argue that, even as the notion of community is so often heralded as an antidote to the excesses of American individualism, understandings of community are themselves predicated on a powerful commitment to the individual. Rather than self-interested, competitive, or greedy, however, this individual is figured as a crucial component in healthy, ethical forms of being together. The form and promise of the individual thus made living collectively possible for community residents, who responded to the tantalizing promises and often acute challenges of living with others in communal proximity by intensifying calls for personal space and boundaries, on the one hand, and interior self-examination, on the other. Moreover, many Oak Haveners looked to another time and social order to imagine that “tribal” affinity could be achieved by bringing robustly volitional, independent persons into proximity, adhering to a theory of community that I call “assembly by aggregation.” I conclude that this emphasis on individual independence and boundedness as a path to communal solidarity obscured how Oak Haven’s most highly valued members were not those who were firmly encased, but those who were permeable to others—able to receive, respond to, and intuit the calls of others—even as this very permeability was cast as unhealthy and undesirable. Examining the dilemmas of (re)producing the individual in relation to idealized, pathologized, and actual forms of kinship at Oak Haven, this article attempts to illuminate how the unquestioned status of the individual in American late liberalism has significant effects on how collective flourishing can be lived and even imagined. [Keywords: Individualism, intentional community, intimacy, kinship, late liberalism, proximity, settler colonialism, US]


Working Women in Rural South Africa: Conflicts and Contradictions

Kathleen Rice, McGill University

ABSTRACT—In South Africa, economic liberalization and the technological innovations in the mining sector have altered employment opportunities for rural Xhosa. Young men struggle to find jobs as labor migrants, while some young women find work in villages. These women assume provider roles for their families that are reminiscent of longstanding normative masculine achievements. They also use their income to achieve relative independence. Although many households depend on working women, they nevertheless attract criticism. Women mobilize a discourse of “human rights” to defend their position in these conflicts, even as men argue that “human rights” enable women’s wayward behaviour. Drawing on fieldwork in the Eastern Cape, this article argues that working women provoke controversy because of how they trouble gendered meanings attached to work, domesticity, and social reproduction. I show that although they challenge the patriarchal domestic order through lifestyle choices and overt appeals to the “right” to remain single, the strategies that working women deploy to manage conflicting expectations and a heavy workload also reproduce patriarchal domestic hierarchies. In so doing, they further exclude young men from social reproduction. By situating their struggle in a discursive framework of “human rights,” single women find ways of occupying seemingly contradictory positions simultaneously. [Keywords: Gender, work, social reproduction, South Africa, “human rights”]


Social Thought & Commentary: Populist Panics: Sex as Excess in Right Wing India  

Pinky Hota, Smith College

ABSTRACT—This Social Thought and Commentary essay examines three sex panics in Hindu right-wing India. These panics illustrate how sex is deployed as socially constructed and naturally arousing to deny the material body while engaging its fleshy materiality in mediational populist politics. Sex as an unstable system of signification and its material truth effects are co-constitutive in propagating right-wing violence that resists being read as either caste or sexual atrocity and is symptomatic of an ongoing ambivalence towards the market. [Keywords: Sex, right-wing populism, economic uncertainty, caste, women, gender, India]