Relational geographies of human trafficking: inequality, manoeuvring and im/mobility across space and time

This paper demonstrates why and how a fuller geographical perspective extends contemporary scholarship on human trafficking within and beyond the discipline. We employ a relational approach and draw on in-depth qualitative research with trafficked persons and a range of stakeholders in Slovakia and the United Kingdom (UK), to depict how the processes underpinning human trafficking are non-linear, operate instantaneously at multiple intersecting scales and temporalities, and through diverse mobilities. The analysis problematises the discrete and homogeneous notion of space coupled with a linear conceptualisation of time and, more specifically, the normative portrayals of recruitment, transit, and exploitation as distinct and sequential phases of human trafficking. Instead, the individuated experiences of trafficked persons are examined in relational geographies of inequality, manoeuvring and mobilities. Such a conceptual shift ensures that efforts to understand and combat human trafficking address its effects as well as the wider social relations and structural conditions that facilitate exploitation. We conclude the paper by outlining how a relational-geographic perspective has the potential to foster new forms of dialogue and inquiry within and beyond the discipline.