DOI: 10.1177/03058298231212916 ISSN: 0305-8298

Movements to Combat Sex-Trafficking: The Social Construction of a Global Problem and Its Solutions

Peggy-Jean M. Allin, George M. Thomas
  • Political Science and International Relations
  • Sociology and Political Science

In this paper we analyze the international movements against sex-trafficking, identifiable for 150 years. We critically assess actor-centric approaches within IR that assume a tight connection between intentional actors and a singular norm. We build on critical research to develop a cultural institutional approach that focuses on the intertwining of actors and institutions and on how outcomes are loosely coupled from actors’ actions. Several empirical implications are delineated that guide and are assessed by our analysis of the anti-sex-trafficking history. Using the lens of cultural institutionalism, the resulting interpretative history identifies patterns that support the implications and utility of the theory and that actor-centric perspectives have slighted: actors and norms are embedded in institutions, change was multidimensional and repeatedly difficult to label as success or failure, outcomes often were long-term through weak connections, anti-sex-trafficking movements were affected by distinct issue areas, change occurred episodically through institutional workspaces from early conferences, and conventions of the League of Nations to Vienna 1993 and Palermo 2000. We discuss the contributions of our analysis and the implications for critical theories of how a social problem and its solutions are constructed leading to international socio-political change.

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