Erin Kamler’s new book, “Rewriting the Victim: Dramatization as Research in Thailand’s Anti-Trafficking Movement” is now available from Oxford University Press’ series on Gender and International Relations.
About the book:
The international movement against the trafficking of women, which has gained momentum over the past two decades, is driven largely by the United States, in tandem with state governments and NGO workers. Feminist organizations have played a key role in carrying out anti-trafficking policies, but are increasingly divided over what those policies should look like. The primary divide exists between those feminists who want to abolish prostitution (as a key link to trafficking) and those who argue that what sex workers need is not to have their livelihoods taken away through paternalistic policies, but improved working conditions to alleviate the dangers associated with their work. A primary criticism of US NGO workers, well-intentioned as they may be, is that they misunderstand the cultural and economic conditions of the women they purport to help. This book provides a unique response to this misunderstanding. On one level it shows how this movement is, in fact, based on a Western mindset that problematizes women and puts its own interests before those of the women it is trying to help. But the project’s primary innovation is in the method that it develops to explore the conflict of cultural values that gives rise to the aforementioned debates: what Erin M. Kamler calls Dramatization as Research (DAR).
Through writing and producing “Land of Smiles,” a musical inspired by field research that includes over fifty interviews with female migrant laborers, sex workers, activists, NGO employees, and other members of the anti-trafficking movement, Kamler presents one of the dominant stories about human trafficking and critiques the discourse about the trafficking of women in Thailand. The book examines how the musical aimed to facilitate communication between stakeholders in the anti-trafficking movement in Thailand and prime a dialogue to explore the policies, practices, and outcomes of actions in this environment. Through researching, writing and producing the musical for the individuals on whose experiences the story of the musical is based, Kamler shows how the arts can be used as a feminist communication intervention and a vehicle for understanding the cultural dimension of human rights.
“Erin Kamler has truly earned her stripes as a human rights researcher. Here she brings her other hat-as a writer, producer, and performer of theater-to challenging us, empathetically but insistently, to do our work differently and do it better. Her unpeeling of the narrative of the poor trafficking victim in need of rescue by white saviours provides an invaluable antidote to the paternalism and moralizing behind too many anti-trafficking efforts.”-Heather Barr, Senior Researcher, Women’s Rights Division, Human Rights Watch
“Erin Kamler has written an ambitious path-breaking book that builds bridges between the humanities and social sciences, migrant women’s embodiments and subjectivities, abolitionist and pro-sex work approaches, theory and policy/practice. Rewriting the Victim will make you reconsider what you think you already know of anti -trafficking research, policies, advocacies, and their ramifications.”-Christine B.N. Chin, author of Cosmopolitan Sex Workers
“Erin Kamler has given us a detailed road map for joining up participatory research, musical theater performance, and dialogues of reconciliation in polarized communities-a much needed process for challenging coloniality, NGO savior complexes, and Western-modernist fantasies of superiority. This beautifully written book is a primer for the work of decoloniality and liberation from the frontlines of international conflict.”-Helene Shulman Lorenz, co-author of Toward Psychologies of Liberation
“Critique conventional understandings of sex trafficking in Southeast Asia-and the global policy agenda meant to address it. Turn your critique into a musical, stage it in Chiang Mai, and analyse the audience reactions. Erin Kamler’s remarkable book is a compelling piece of research that shares the stage with an extraordinary theatrical performance, breaking down the barriers between academia, development practice, and the arts. It will change the way you think and feel about what you do.”-Duncan McCargo, Columbia University
“Erin Kamler is remarkably creative-not only in the art she produces, but in how she synthesizes activism, research, scholarship, and art. This book presents an exciting new paradigm of collective research methodology that challenges our existing, confining categories of refugees and aid workers, victims and traffickers, ‘good guys’ and ‘bad guys,’ with the potential to dislodge accepted narratives that too often silence the nuanced voices of communities we study and engage with.”-Matthew J. Walton, author of Buddhism, Politics and Political Thought in Myanmar