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From criminals to slaves: “modern slavery,” drug trafficking, and the cultural politics of victimhood in postcolonial Britain

Lee Koch, Insa (2024) From criminals to slaves: “modern slavery,” drug trafficking, and the cultural politics of victimhood in postcolonial Britain. Current Anthropology. ISSN 0011-3204

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Identification Number: 10.1086/729537

Abstract

At a time when Black Lives Matter has brought the legacies of transatlantic slavery to the global headlines, the British state has discovered slavery of a different kind: the evils of “modern slavery.” Modern slavery has been defined as an urgent contemporary problem facing domestic citizens on home ground. This is nowhere more evident than in the case of county lines, the name given to the street-level drug economy of heroin and crack cocaine that is connecting larger cities to coastal and market towns. The runners of this illicit trade—working-class teenagers and young men, often racialized as nonwhite, from marginalized social housing estates—are no longer treated as criminals but as modern slaves in need of saving. Yet the making of modern slaves hinges upon fraught processes of techno-moral governance that divorce individuals’ de jure vulnerability from the state’s de facto production of classed and racial domination. Thus, in the name of saving the vulnerable, the state expands its remit of control into the most intimate realms of people’s lives. What is more, by distinguishing those who are considered worthy of legal victimhood from others who are not, it has reinvented the figure of the modern slave master in the body of the male black working-class youth. Far from constituting a departure from punitive modes of governance, the politics of victimhood entrenches deep-seated inequalities while further distancing the state from the afterlives of Empire in postcolonial austerity Britain.

Item Type: Article
Official URL: https://www.journals.uchicago.edu/toc/ca/current
Additional Information: © 2024 The Wenner-Gren Foundation for Anthropological Research
Divisions: Anthropology
Subjects: H Social Sciences > HT Communities. Classes. Races
K Law > K Law (General)
K Law > KD England and Wales
J Political Science > JV Colonies and colonization. Emigration and immigration. International migration
Date Deposited: 22 Apr 2024 13:24
Last Modified: 16 May 2024 04:22
URI: http://eprints.lse.ac.uk/id/eprint/122727

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