DAY FOURTEEN: Challenging sexual humanitarian bordering through co-creative ethnographic filmmaking

Nick Mai shares the trailer to CAER, made in collaboration with Colectivo Intercultural Transgrediendo, and argues for the importance of co-creative ethnographic filmmaking as a strategic methodological approach to challenging the spectacle of victimhood, allowing migrant sex workers and other migrant groups to define victimhood according to their needs, experiences, and priorities.

Nick Mai

Featured image: Image: Still from CAER: Lorena Borjas and Liaam Winslet watching the first version of the film during a co-creative editing feedback session. From Anti Trafficking Review. 

Contemporary times are characterised by the convergence of the inequalities engendered by neoliberal policies and the parallel increase in both migration flows and restrictive migration policies. They are also characterised by the global rise of neo-abolitionist policies attempting to eradicate sex work, framed as sexual exploitation and trafficking, which often translates into harmful policies exacerbating the exploitability and deportability of marginalized, racialized and sex-gendered migrant groups. This convergence is the background for the proliferation of sexual humanitarian biographical borders. These emerge at the interplay between discursive, material and performative practices through which a majority of ‘economic migrants’ are filtered away from a minority of refugees identified according to stereotypical humanitarian understandings of victimhood, abuse and exploitation expressing the sensibilities and priorities of the global north. Co-creative ethnographic filmmaking (ethnofiction) can be a strategic methodological approach to challenge the idealised and stereotypical priorities and categories of victimhood framing sexual humanitarian bordering by allowing migrant sex workers and other marginalised and stigmatised migrant groups to define victimhood in their terms according to their experiences, priorities and needs. 

Watch the trailer to CAER (Caught) here. It was made in collaboration with the Colectivo Intercultural Transgrediendo

Author’s Bio

Nick Mai is a sociologist, an ethnographer and a filmmaker whose writing and films focus on the experiences and representations of stigmatised and criminalised migrant groups. Through co-creative ethnographic films and original research findings Nick challenges prevailing representation of the encounter between migration and sex work in terms of trafficking, while focusing on the complex dynamics of exploitation and agency that are implicated.  Nick is the author of Mobile Orientations: An Intimate Autoethnography of Migration, Sex Work, and Humanitarian Borders (Chicago University Press, 2018).  

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