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Lecture | Research Seminar

The making of a slave: ‘Modern’ slavery, drugs trafficking, and the cultural politics of victimhood in postcolonial Britain

  • Insa Koch
Monday 17 May 2021

States’ claims that they are relieving human suffering have become a central element of their ongoing liberal legitimation in the face of deepening inequalities. The British government’s ‘modern’ slavery agenda in relation to the so-called ‘county lines’ drugs trade provides a case in point. The runners of this drugs trade – working class and minority ethnic young men – are no longer treated as criminals but as ‘modern’ slaves in need of saving. Yet, the ‘making’ of ‘modern’ slaves hinges upon a fraught politics of victimhood which divorces individuals’ de jure vulnerability from their de facto structural exclusion. It further acts to disguise the afterlife of transatlantic slavery in the racialised and classed exclusion of post-colonial subjects – some of whom are now discovered by the state as ‘slave masters’ in Britain today.

About Insa Koch

Insa Koch is Associate Professor in the Law Department and Director of the Anthropology and Law Programme at the London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE). Trained as both an anthropologist and as a lawyer, Insa  works on topics including the democratic crisis and populist movements, processes of inequality, the welfare state and the criminal justice system. Insa's book, Personalizing the State, with OUP, published in December 2018, is an ethnography of class, citizenship and punishment in austerity Britain. The book was awarded the 2020 Hart Book Prize for Early Career Academics by the Socio-Legal Studies Association. 

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