Tandem ethnography: On researching 'trafficking' and 'anti-trafficking'

Sverre Molland*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

18 Citations (Scopus)


How can an elusive phenomenon such as human trafficking be studied anthropologically? Recent anthropological research has problematized and destabilized bound territory and sitedness. UN agencies, governments, and NGOs attempt to combat trafficking in persons, but find it hard to pinpoint traffickers and their victims for programmatic purposes. Similar to anthropology's relativization of site, displaced locality is central to the anti-trafficking discourse. In this essay, I reflect upon my own research on the social worlds of trafficking and anti-trafficking along the Lao-Thai border and show how a 'tandem ethnography' allows a methodological oscillation between the policy domain of anti-trafficking and the social world of mobility, sex commerce and the recruitment within it. Rather than giving away the importance of physical locality, I argue for the importance of strategic positioning within an ethnography of the mobile. As such, the old anthropological principle of comparisons must be brought into the field.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)300-323
Number of pages24
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - Sept 2013


  • anthropology
  • comparative methods
  • ethnography
  • human trafficking
  • methodology
  • mobility


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