The Rights Lab at the University of Nottingham has welcomed a world-leading expert on modern slavery perpetrators as its latest recruit.
Austin Choi-Fitzpatrick joins the Rights Lab as Associate Professor of Human Rights and Social Movements in the School of Sociology and Social Policy.
Austin joins the team’s growing list of new experts which already includes global slavery expert Professor Kevin Bales CMG, and most recently the former Chief Scientific Advisor to the Home Office, Professor Sir Bernard Silverman.
His unique research looks at the role of contemporary slaveholders that are challenged by contemporary anti-slavery movements – an area which is rarely addressed by scholars of slavery or social movements.
“As social movement scholars, we write histories and assessments of the movements themselves, and we rarely have access to perpetrators or the powerful people who movements challenge,” says Austin. “As scholars of slavery and freedom we tend to focus on victims and survivors, on laws and legislation, but to end slavery for good we need to explain what drives slaveholders.
“Just think about the American Civil Rights Movement. Everybody knows about Martin Luther King, Jr, but we know almost nothing about the segregationists he was up against.
“For the anti-slavery movement to be ultimately successful, if we want to truly make slavery history, then we need to address why some people are victimised and why other people exploit.”
Prior to academia, Austin helped coordinate national outreach at the advocacy group Free the Slaves. He earned his PhD in Sociology from the University of Notre Dame, where he was Assistant Director of the Centre for the Study of Social Movements and Social Change. He was previously founding faculty at Central European University’s School of Public Policy.
He is Deputy Editor at the social movement journal Mobilization and Associate Editor at the Journal of Human Trafficking and in 2017 was a visiting scholar at the Oxford Internet Institute. He is currently based at the Joan B Kroc School of Peace Studies at the University of San Diego, where he will also continue to work during his appointment with the Rights Lab.
“I knew from an early age that I wanted to make a difference. The anti-slavery cause caught my attention in the late 1990s because it’s something that we (humanity) should have put a stop to already. We should have the resources, time, energy and commitment to stop it, and I honestly believe it’s possible to eradicate slavery. I want to put my energies in to something ambitious and do-able in my life time.”
In his book What Slaveholders Think: How Contemporary Perpetrators Rationalise What They Do, Austin draws on interviews with contemporary slaveholders to explore the way they feel about emancipatory movements. In his new book, Protest Tech: How Social Movements Use Disruptive Technology, he explores the ways movements use tools and technologies to bring about social change.
With a research team based in both California and Nottingham he has started a new book project that compares stories of survivors and perpetrators, asking what we can learn about how human rights violations pass into collective memory.
As a member of the Rights Lab he will be continuing his work on contemporary slavery and exploring the use of new technologies to tackle intractable human rights violations, the role of photography in anti-slavery movements, and other issues.
On joining the Rights Lab, Austin said: “In tackling slavery Nottingham has demonstrated a serious commitment to answering some of the really big questions of our age - why do we oppress one another? And how can we build a world with freedom for all? I’m honoured to be a part of such an ambitious and important initiative.”
Professor Zoe Trodd, Director of the Rights Lab, said: “I am thrilled to welcome the world-leading expert on modern slavery perpetrators to the Rights Lab. To achieve the UN Global Goal of ending slavery by 2030, we need the kind of work that Austin has pioneered: work that sets modern slavery in a wide range of social, political, and economic contexts. Working with him, we are taking forward an intersectional approach to achieving the Global Goals; tackling slavery’s drivers in poverty, gender inequality, cultural practices, and armed conflict, for example.”
Professor Todd Landman, Pro-Vice-Chancellor for the Faculty of Social Sciences at the University, said: “It is a great pleasure to welcome Dr Choi-Fitzpatrick to Nottingham at a time when the University’s new research strategy includes a direct focus on combating modern slavery. His work on modern slavery will advance our substantive understanding and methodological rigour.”
The Rights Lab is a University Beacon of Excellence that brings together over 100 scholars to deliver research that helps to end global slavery by 2030.
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