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Durham University

Institute of Advanced Study

Past Events

IAS Fellows' Seminar - When does marriage count as slavery? Global measurements and the political economy of knowledge

4th December 2018, 13:30 to 14:30, Seminar Room, Institute of Advanced Study, Professor Joel Quirk (University of Witwatersrand)


The last two decades have been marked by a growing number of efforts to quantify global patterns of exploitation. One recent high profile example of this larger trend is the 2017 Global Estimates of Modern Slavery and Child Labour, which calculated that 40.3 million people are currently subject to modern slavery, with 24.9 million being subject to forced labour and 15.4 million being subjected to forced marriage as a specific form of slavery. It is the inclusion of the later which is the main concern of this paper. The 2017 Estimate is a unique collaboration between the International Labour Organisation (ILO) and the Walk Free Foundation, and is designed to provide a platform from which to assess measurable progress towards the realisation of article 8.7 of the new Sustainable Development Goals. While the ILO has been attempting to measure patterns of labour exploitation for decades, it had not previously attempted to do the same for forced marriage. The emphasis on marriage instead comes from Walk Free, which been counting forced marriage as a form of slavery since 2013. Building upon arguments and insights upon an expanding literature on the politics of numbers and the marketplace of human rights activism, this paper explores the calculations and methodologies which have been used in order to quantify forced marriage as a specific form of slavery throughout the globe. The key issue here is not simply how to go about counting marriage methodologically. There is also the further question of whose interpretation of marriage counts politically.


Joel Quirk is a Professor of Politics at the University of the Witwatersrand. His research focuses on slavery and abolition, human mobility, global governance and the political economy of human rights activism, and the history and politics of Africa. Recent works include The Anti-Slavery Project: From the Slave Trade To Human Trafficking (Penn, 2011), Mobility Makes States: Migration and Power in Africa (Penn, 2015), and Contemporary Slavery: The Rhetoric of Global Human Rights Campaigns (Cornell, 2018). Joel is a member of the International Scientific Committee of the UNESCO Slave Route Project. He is also an editor of openDemocracy’s Beyond Trafficking and Slavery, where he recently helped to convene an online roundtable on the future of work with the Ford Foundation.

Places are limited and so any academic colleagues or students interested in attending a seminar should register online in advance to reserve a place. Places will be confirmed within 48 hours of receipt (subject to availability). Alternatively please contact the Institute in advance to reserve a place.

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