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Assembling Samira and travel: Sexual humanitarian bordering of migration - 9 October 2019

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Professor Nick Mai, sociologist ethnographer and filmmaker, talks about his work on the representations of migrants working in the sex industry.

Through two film-installations, Samira and Travel, Nick questions the effectiveness and scope of humanitarian initiatives targeting migrant sex workers and sexual minority asylum seekers.

In order to have their rights recognised and avoid deportation, migrant women, men and transgender people selling sex must represent their biographies and experiences according to stereotypical canons of exploitation and sex-gender taxonomies that are geared towards the global North. These also often act as humanitarian borders, excluding migrant sex workers from protection and asylum while stopping their trajectories of social mobilities through migration.

Samira (2013; 27 min): covers the story of Karim, an Algerian man selling sex as a transvestite (Samira) at night who having obtained asylum as a transsexual woman now wants to return home as the male head of his family.

Travel (2016; 63 min): explores the life history of Joy, a Nigerian migrant woman selling sex in the Bois de Vincennes in Paris after having obtained asylum as a victim of trafficking

This ethnographic research and ethnofictional filmmaking are part of the overarching art-science project titled 'Emborders'. 

About Professor Nick (Nicola) Mai

Professor Nick Mai

Professor Nick Mai is a sociologist, ethnographer and filmmaker, whose writing and films focus on the experiences and representations of migrants working in the sex industry.

Through participative ethnographic films and original research findings, he challenges the prevailing representation of encounters between migration and sex work in terms of trafficking, while focusing on the complex dynamics of exploitation and agency that are implicated.

In 2016, Nick was awarded an ERC Consolidator Grant (SEXHUM - Sexual Humanitarianism: Migration, Sex Work and Trafficking; 2016-2020) to study the impact of anti-trafficking legislation and initiatives on the governance of migration and on the sex industry in the global North. He is doing this by analysing migrants' own understandings and experiences of agency and exploitation in Australia, France, New Zealand and the US.

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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