Discursive Context and Language as Action: A demonstration using critical discourse analysis to examine discussions about human trafficking in Hawai‘i

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Journal of Community Psychology


Community psychology has long valued understanding the contextual issues that maintain social problems. The present study demonstrates the use of Critical Discourse Analysis (CDA) to examine the discursive context surrounding the issue of human trafficking. CDA was used to understand the ways that local stakeholders in Hawai‘i (N = 13) described the issue of human trafficking. Human trafficking is well suited for this type of analysis because it is a controversial phenomenon, surrounded by highly politicized rhetoric. Results showed that participants tended to use different combinations of discourses related to labor, immigration, sex, gender, children, and consent to discuss human trafficking. Discourses on consent were found to be key areas of contention in most constructions of human trafficking, with many participants painting trafficked persons as having limited ability to consent to their situation. Groups that are complicit in benefiting from trafficking offenses were rarely named. The implications of obscuring the complicity of those in power while casting vulnerable groups as one‐dimensional victims are discussed.