Ep #61 Switching Hats: Sverre Molland on Anti-Trafficking Initiatives in the Mekong Region

The Familiar Strange · #60 Switching Hats: Sverre Molland On Anti-Trafficking Initiatives In The Mekong Region

A content warning before we get into this week’s interview.  Today’s topic centres around  human trafficking activites in the Mekong reagion and our guest does mention some of the  physical abuse that does take place in these situations. 

“I’m still, to this day, very supportive of the UN if I’m going to put my policy hat on, if you like” 

This week, we bring you an interview with Dr Sverre Molland who is currently head of Discipline for Anthropology and Archaeology at the Australian National University. He also happens to be on familiar stranger, Alex’s PhD Supervisory panel! Some of Dr Molland’s research interests include, migration, government and politics of Asia and the Pacific and security. Previously, Dr Molland has worked with the United Nations Development Programme as part of the anti-trafficking efforts in the Mekong region. 

Dr Molland’s most recent work, “Sedentary Optics: Static Anti-Trafficking and Moblie Victims”discusses the weaknesses of anti-trafficking initiatives and how they can often be at odds with what the victims and the communities that are being affected actually need. 

Throughout this interview with Alex, Dr Molland discusses how often well meaning Non-Government Organisations (NGO’s) can operate in contrast to how governments want to operate. He also discusses the challenges and learnings from his time working  for United Nations Development Programme and his contrasting experiences in academia. He details how the outcomes of both policy and academia can often be different in their applications and use by both private and state actors.


“Over time, you learn to engage different realms of knowledge production” 

“I think serendipity is really important in ethnographic practise” 

“There’s a particular lens, there’s a particular sort of perspective that you learn to adopt I suppose when you’re working for an aid agency.  I don’t know I guess you can kind of call it a bureaucratic habitus” 

“My supervisor had to bang my head quite a bit to get me to broaden my horizons on this” 

 “They can continue without having to actually deal with the fact that there is sort of messy reality that they are dealing with” 

“It makes anti-immigration very cute basically, that’s what anti-trafficking does” 

“It’s not true to say that nothing changes, discourse does connect to practise”

Links and Citations 

If you wanted to read Sverre’s recent paper Alex mentioned:

To read more about Sverre’s work check out his website:

If you were curious about Bordieu’s work on Habitus:

Check out James C. Scott’s “Seeing Like a State” here:

Read More about Michael Foucault here:

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Our Patreon can be found at https://www.patreon.com/thefamiliarstrange

This anthropology podcast is supported by the Australian Anthropological Society, the ANU’s College of Asia and the Pacific and College of Arts and Social Sciences, and the Australian Centre for the Public Awareness of Science, and is produced in collaboration with the American Anthropological Association.

Music by Pete Dabro: dabro1.bandcamp.com

Shownotes by Matthew Phung

Podcast edited by Alex D’Aloia and Matthew Phung

Feature Image: “Fishing the Mekong” by Alex Berger (2018)

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