Tag Archives: Margaret Archer

Farewell, Margaret Archer († 21st May 2023)

It is with great sadness that we share news of the death of Prof. Margaret Archer, who passed away on 21st May 2023.

Prof. Margaret Archer founded the Centre for Social Ontology in 2011 at Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (Switzerland). She led the Centre as its Director until 2017 and then as its General Editor.
For many members of the CSO, Maggie was a cherished friend in addition to being a colleague of outstanding talent, dedication and integrity.

Margaret Archer’s contributions to social theory are too vast, numerous and subtle to be adequately summarized on a single webpage. Over the coming months, members of the CSO will gather reflections on how she made a difference to the study of people, cultures and societies.

Overview of Margaret Archer’s research interests and accomplishments as she reflected on them

Updated list of Margaret Archer’s publications (will be complemented in the coming months)

Oil on canvas by von Tamm, ‘Still Life of Roses, Morning Glory, Carnations, Forget-Me-Nots and Other Flowers on a Stone Ledge, Together with a Bunch of Peaches’ (ca. 1700), Public Domain.

Margaret Archer joint-recipient of the International Oreste Benzi Award 2020

Professor Margaret Archer has been jointly awarded the 2020 International Oreste Benzi Award for her work against human trafficking. Archer’s ‘Housing, Help and Hospitality’ charity for trafficked women and their children was particularly lauded in the award announcement. A detailed account of the work of this charity can be found here.

The Father Oreste Benzi Foundation “promotes research, studies and opportunities for analysis and discussion on the needs of suffering, marginalised and disadvantaged people,” inspired by the work of Father Oreste Benzi, priest of the Diocese of Rimini.

Starting from Zero: The Story of a Small Charity for Resettlement – Margaret Archer

Professor Margaret Archer, in her role as president of the Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences, together with Ms. Jami Solli of the Global Alliance for Legal Aid (GALA), organized a workshop entitled ‘Assisting Victims of Human Trafficking: Best Practices in Legal Aid, Compensation and Resettlement’, which ran from 4-6 November, 2017, in Vatican City. Details of the event can be found here.

Professor Archer’s presentation of the work of her charity “Housing, Help and Hospitality” can be viewed below.

Professor Archer also published a written account of the charity’s work on the website of the Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences. The text of this article is reproduced below without adaptation (CC BY-SA 4.0).

Starting from Zero The Story of a Small Charity for Resettlement: ‘Housing, Help and Hospitality’

Margaret S. Archer
PASS President

May every parish, every religious community, every monastery, every shrine of Europe take in one family.[1]
Pope Francis, Angelus Address, St Peter’s Square, 6 September 2017

This is deliberately presented as a simple short story written for those of goodwill who consider making a difference to the lives of those who have survived human trafficking rather than as one of my usual Social Theory papers. Motives will differ but I am more concerned with ‘how’ they go about starting up a charitable venture than ‘why’ they do so. Each individual will have his or her narrative to tell but what they share is their need to work within the social context of any country, although this account is limited to England. Already, in writing ‘England’, rather than GB or UK, I am signalling the importance of the legal context that Janus-like both recognises the problem of human trafficking but also, paradoxically, both constrains and enables voluntary initiatives everywhere – though in different ways – and is particularly tricky in federal states and those with devolved powers of government.

In other words, addressing the context is inescapable, because there is no such thing as ‘context-less action’ in any kind in society. Of course, sociologists and other social scientists will differ about the relative importance of different contextual elements – from international relations to the unique characteristics of isolated communities, from ethnic relations to relatively homogeneous areas, from histories of internal antagonisms to those subjected to external conquest, subordination or colonization, including post-colonialism. Those and many more shape the context and confront new organized ventures with obstacles and challenges, but also certain resources and a welcome in some quarters and opposition from others. Sometimes these are recognized in advance and sometimes they are encountered en route – or both.

The specific local context of this story is a small historic town in the Midlands, considered to be a ‘desirable’ place to live, predominantly white, middle class, disproportionately elderly and tending to vote consistently centre-right. Conversely, it has many community associations and more than a few Charities, the gamut of English Churches, a University on its doorstep and a large lake, generous green spaces with playgrounds and sporting facilities. Nearby is an ‘industrial’ town with more than the national quota of unemployment, destitution and refugees (given its multi-ethnic character). Whether this new small enterprise for the resettlement of survivors of human trafficking had been mooted in the historic or industrial town, it would necessarily have had to confront the same law of the land when seeking to answer the most immediate ‘how’ question – namely how to get trafficked people to be referred to them?

Part 1: Confronting the legal context

I wrongly believed that we (and I will come to who ‘we’ are in Part 2) would find this easy, given ownership of a terraced house in good condition and decorative order, with fitted appliances, including a wine fridge, a garden in front and behind in a very mixed street of young semi-professionals, students and retired people. The first bad surprise was the unhelpfulness of the Internet websites. Googling ‘Housing for Trafficked People’, or any permutations on this, yielded webpages promoting the good works of a variety of Associations, which I had no reason to doubt, but they were not specifically concerned with ‘trafficking’. Much the same is the case for asylum seekers. In other words, it was hard to find guidance and one of my abiding criticisms is the absence of a ‘roadmap’ indicating the procedure and points of contact. This must operate as a major deterrent to those wishing to contribute, but who are not part of an almost underground network.

In search of advice, I contacted the Migrant and Refugee Centre in the adjacent town, which was helpful in terms of willingness to share their teaching and advisory facilities but volunteered to refer only two indigenous cases of destitution. The Local District Council was also sympathetic, but tried to steer me towards Asylum seekers as part of the Government’s none too generous undertaking over five years and without a definite schedules of arrivals. Thus, presenting myself as an ordinary person, with an empty house offered rent-free and surrounded by a rising sea of need, was getting nowhere. The miniature experiment with ‘ordinariness’ was abandoned.

From our PASS meeting of 2013,[2] I had contacts, knew the Independent Commissioner and some of the Santa Marta Group, but also about the National Referral Mechanism (NRM) for trafficked persons. Still trying to be an almost-ordinary citizen, I decided to tackle the latter, especially in the knowledge that the Salvation Army largely fulfilled this function. They could not have been more helpful and gave a crash course on ‘first responders’ and the interface with the legal process that three years later I found well summarized in the diagram reproduced as Figure 1, made by a film company. This clear information was publicly available, but not exactly prominent to the general public. What the flowchart makes crystal clear is the tightly interwoven nature of relations between providers, provisions and progress through the legal system once referral had taken place.

Supplemented by the publication from the Home Office[3] ‘for Home Office Staff’ as ‘front line staff guidance’, it became clear that the ‘first responders, twelve of them (p. 46), played a key role as gatekeepers. Thanks to the Salvation Army having taken and circulated the details I gave to them, the Medaille Trust referred two trafficked Nigerian women with a child each and another on the way – somewhat diluting my guilt about having had empty accommodation for four months.

Figure 1 The National Referral Mechanism.

The Modern Slavery Act 2015

The passage of this bill by the then Home Secretary, Theresa May, was almost coterminous with our PASS Plenary meeting ‘Human Trafficking: Issues Beyond Criminalization’[4] and the leitmotif of our Recommendations: ‘Resettlement not Repatriation’. The strength and weakness of this Act are well summarized by John McEldowney in that volume.[5] This Act is hardly an inspirational text, in particular because many of its provisions in fact pre-dated it (most importantly, the existence and appointment of the Independent Commissioner and the NRM, established in 2009).

One useful but difficult way to read the Act is by looking for absences and another is by searching for ‘token presences’, meaning legal and financial initiatives appearing in the subjunctive, but which have not been taken up. In order to link with our discussions in the first sessions of this meeting, mention of the prosecuted making compensation is contained in Clause 8(7) and Clause 9(1) clarifies that this would be payable to the victims. Whether or not this has ever been done remains opaque. Clause 41 may allow and support research to be undertaken, but we have no evidence of its initiation in the 2016 Review of the Act. Similarly, Clause 50(1) specifies that the ‘Secretary of State may make regulations providing for assistance and support to be available for persons “who are, or for whom there are reasonable (legal) grounds to believe may be victims of slavery or human trafficking”’. Beyond the 45 days for ‘rest and reflection’ with a ‘first responder’ it is impossible for an academic to ascertain if such material assistance has regularly or ever been supplied. Finally, Clause 54(1) enjoins that (each and every?) commercial organizations must prepare a slavery and human trafficking statement for each financial year, covering its supply chains and its own business. Are these reports in the public domain? Transparency is not a prime objective in the implementation of the 2015 Act.

Where absences are concerned, the task is easier. This is a bill for the criminalization of human trafficking and actually distances itself from the human question of resettlement. Indeed, Clause 41 specifies that the Independent Commissioner’s duties do not include ‘resettlement’ but are confined to (a) ‘prevention, detection, investigation and prosecution of offences’ and (b) to the ‘identification of victims of those offenses’. Although the term ‘repatriation’ is not used, neither is it specified what happens to victims who might have made a sufficient case for their claims to having been trafficked to be deemed ‘reasonable’, but who fail to sustain that these are ‘conclusive’. They are granted the right to appeal but the repetition of ‘assistance to return home’ and withdrawal of support, imply that their days in Britain are numbered – to 14. Most of the text dwells on the definition of practices and on prosecution procedures that are addressed to the police and the legal profession respectively. The existence of bona fide victims of human trafficking and forced labour are the proximate causes of this Act, but its provisions for them are confined to the 45-day period, there is no mention of further or onwards referral and the consideration of victim’s rights is limited to the UN Convention. In all of this, the victims are reduced to the objects of malfeasance by their traffickers, but not allowed the role of human subjects in need of resettlement.

If this seems a harsh evaluation of the Act, the critical points made are reinforced by The Modern Slavery Act Review of 2016.[6] Produced one year later, it reads like a police and prosecutors manual. This is no accident if the scope of the Review is assessed from the agencies consulted (p. 32), which include none concerned with victim care. There is a repetition of encouragement to the courts to apply reparation orders where assets are confiscated from perpetrators of trafficking to compensate victims. However, numbers of referrals to the NRM represented a 40% increase on 2014 with the Crown Prosecution Service supplying most.

It was in relation to the NRM that victim care was addressed at all, but it was concluded that ‘the support provided during the 45-day period appeared to be appropriate’ (p. 25). One Police Officer expressed his concern that ‘45 days within the NRM system is not sufficient time to decompress 10 years of incarceration’. Another argued this placed ‘Officers in the invidious position of being able to do little more than recommend Charities to homeless victims for fear of being accused of incentivising the victim to give evidence at trial’ (p. 25). To these, the report responded that extension of the 45-day time limit was possible (without giving the conditions to be met). Thus, securing convictions was clearly given priority over supplying care. Furthermore, a brief investigation of two geographical areas to which the Review referred showed some enthusiasm in the police for reducing the 45 days to 48 hours!

It emerges from the text that the triangular relationship between the NRM (now dealing with rising numbers), the Local Authorities (operating without a clear financial brief) and the NGOs (‘picking up the slack when a victim had been emancipated’ p. 26), fell well short of smooth integration. As the Independent Commissioner put it to the Home Office in January 2017: ‘The NRM has become a cumbersome process with little coordination among the many stakeholders involved … There is a univocal consensus that the current NRM is in need of reform and development”. There is also the humane recognition that ‘At present many victims who leave safe houses, after receiving a conclusive grounds decision, do not receive further support and thus disappear off the radar. If a potential victim receives a positive conclusive grounds decision they will be required to leave the safe house within 14 days, which is often not enough time to establish safe and secure pathways to mainstream services (where required). If a negative decision is received then that person will only be given 48 hours to leave safe accommodation. Supporting a potential victim until the conclusive decision is made and then ceasing to support so abruptly could be damaging for the victim and negatively affect their recovery’.[7] Thus he concludes that a ‘move-on plan’ should be developed by a multi-agency decision-making panel.

Lastly (to date), the above improvements have been fleshed out in a House of Lords Modern Slavery (Victim Support) Bill.[8] It proposes extending ‘assistance and support’ for 12 months after the 45 days have expired and includes safe accommodation, material assistance, medical and counselling services and a support worker. This could represent progress towards planned ‘resettlement’, but for the legal confusion if not contradiction introduced by provisions for (successful) asylum seekers during the great wave of the latter seeking the Right to Remain in England as in most of Western Europe – a crucial conjunction to which I will return.

The experiences of ‘Housing, Help and Hospitality’ under the Law

When Adunni and Yagazie,[9] with their two young children, came to live in our Charity’s house a year ago,[10] both had already lodged their Appeals with the Home Office against the negative decisions received about their Right to Remain in Britain, despite the acknowledgement that there were ‘reasonable grounds’ for considering them to be trafficked persons. (Adunni had been in domestic servitude for 16 years and Yagazie used in prostitution for a similar period). A year has passed and their cases have not yet been resolved. I will focus on Adunni’s experience for illustration.

Her case was under police investigation in London, where she had given interview evidence, as had her trafficker. When I phoned the Officer in charge about progress, she informed me that she was about to go on maternity leave and would hand over Adunni’s appeal to a named colleague at the same Station. In any case, she added, she believed the trafficker’s account of events. By going through Adunni’s extensive documentation, I extracted hard evidence that the trafficker’s statement was not veracious (e.g. she was issued an NHS number in England when aged 9, whilst he maintained she had not come to the country until 4 years later; date-stamped photos of her in his London house were found providing additional confirmation, and details of parishioners willing to testify in her support had been supplied but these witnesses had never been contacted). This was sent to the Police Station in question, but no reply was received. When Adunni telephoned them, they denied the existence of the Officer who supposedly had taken over her appeal and also that anyone of her name had ever been on their books. Consequently, her new legal representative has initiated a prosecution against this Station, but this cannot restore the years she has forfeited since 2012 when first lodging her case.

In the light of the above, soon after she moved into our accommodation, we encouraged her to make use of the Legal Aid Centre in the city nearby. New documentation and the robust evidence that had emerged were submitted to the Home Office in relation to the Modern Slavery Act, 2015. A year later her appeal is still being investigated by the Home Office, meaning it is now five years since she instigated legal action.

Meanwhile the legal situation has become more complex, given the refugee crisis. Ironically, the treatment of asylum seekers and those of trafficked persons is unequal in terms of the financial benefits received whilst their cases are under review, as is the length of years accorded for the Right to Remain if they are ‘successful’. Both are less generous in relation to the trafficked! In consequence Adunni’s lawyer recommended that she now make new applications under both headings. This is said to be common practice on the grounds of ‘gaining the best for the client’. An unintended consequence is that the number of live police investigations for trafficking are proportionately diminished (currently standing at a mere 300), whilst those for asylum seekers swell. For Adunni, now with two babies, this means that after five years of legal battle, she currently has three unresolved legal appeals on her hands, is still prevented from working, cannot enrol for accredited training courses with a fees’ waiver or concessionary childcare, and has no idea of when this saga will end.

Furthermore she has additional legal incongruities with which to contend. Counted as a single mother, she lived on £55 a week when she had only one child, compared with £73.90 a week for an asylum seeker in the same circumstances – even after Theresa May had reduced the benefits of the latter category.

But is Adunni a single mother? She had met a young Nigerian man at the Evangelical Church she attended with her trafficker’s family. Once she escaped from their house, the two of them married in a customary Yoruba ceremony. He acknowledges Adunni as his wife and himself as the father of her children, who are registered under his family name. The legal precedent for the validity of their marital status was a Yoruba case in 2015, deemed to be a valid marriage in English law by the Family Court of Law.[11] The paradox is that although the Home Office has accepted in writing that his extradition is postponed until the outcome of his wife’s appeal is conclusively determined, he has no Right to Work now that his student visa has expired and hence cannot support his wife and children. Thus, he is acknowledged as husband and father but denied the legal right to maintain his family.

The main fact towards which these and other circumstances[12] point is that prevailing legislation dovetails badly and no efforts have been made to reconcile its disparate provisions in relation to trafficked persons and asylum seekers. Instead, the tendency is to pass both the burden and the bills to the voluntary sector. Adunni’s £55 is paid by a Women’s Aid Charity and was arranged by the ‘safe house’ they left having been placed there by the NRM; so was the Social Worker who visits weekly; but Adunni has no statutory entitlements. Without such, she would fall into the category of the destitute and become reliant on housing etc. provisions (if available) from a very different Charity. For this confusing arrangement to work at all is dependent upon the good inter-personal relations existing between 3H and the Social Worker in question.

At the level of state regulatory, as opposed to legislative instruments, the density of prohibitions upon access to assistance for potential trafficked people also intensifies. In the first place, provision is passed down to the local authorities and when subjects are deemed ineligible by them for free accommodation, to the plethora of voluntary organizations, whose distribution varies from area to area. Thus, as another illustration, we discovered that the Government’s ‘Healthy Eating’ initiative is not a benefit for which victims of trafficking are eligible whilst their appeals are still outstanding. Consequently 3H decided to make a contribution of £20 supermarket vouchers each to Adunni and Yagazie on a fortnightly basis. There is no control over what this is spent upon and sometimes the need for Pampers outweighs that for food. In this case, their only resort is to the Food Banks. The list of their ‘ineligibilities’ is lengthy and the consistent pattern is to shift the task of providing something – always less and less – downwards.

We are fortunate as a very small Charity in having a generous Church Congregation and SVP; the Parish Priest has offered a second collection in case of serious need and the SVP responds willingly, for instance, to the need for new school shoes. Nevertheless, we are acutely aware of the number of situations in which our residents are reduced to humiliating pleading (for bus passes, use of the public swimming pool, etc.). Doubtless there are some even worse off that we see sleeping rough in the adjacent city, but it is unlikely that their experiences included being sold or servitude as their preludes to destitution.

Part 2: Forming and forging a small charity

Putting the infrastructure in place was not difficult. A notice in the Church detailing furniture, bedding and equipment required yielded more than enough for fully furnishing the house and parishioners were thoughtful about the needs of babies and young children. Another notice generated a list of those interested in becoming active volunteers. This highlights the advantage of starting up from an established base whose existing network provides ready means of communication and is as close as one gets to a warranty for the personal integrity of the volunteers.

However, we were also aware that meeting the utility bills and (if need be) paying Council Tax would be the heaviest expenditures. For these we approached the Parish Finance Committee that ‘adopts’ three Charities annually for financial support. Here we met our first real obstacles. First, that awareness of trafficking as opposed to smuggling and asylum seeking was hazy at best, and in 2016 was not helped by the xenophobia that UKIP intensified as part of its Brexit campaign. Second, Church benevolence had assumed conventional forms; tolerant towards ‘second collections’ for well-known causes; responsive to appeals from visiting priests from developing countries for school-building and street-children; but otherwise largely confining themselves to an annual cycle of bazaars and the sale of raffle tickets. Although Pope Francis consistently highlights the iniquities of trafficking for any purpose, his message had only penetrated dimly to most. Third, our start-up formula, which we hoped would spread to other denominations, faith groups and humanist associations, was greeted as a novelty that generated suspicion amongst a few. One e-mail accused me of a personal ‘scam’ to make money, since the property and any equity remained in my name, although it was offered rent-free, insured, and structurally maintained by me as ‘landlord’. This I had adopted, hoping that other organizations could find equivalent benefactors because we are not short on minor affluence in this small town. Many e-mails later, with the support of the Parish Priest, the Parish Finance Committee agreed to our request and the utility bills were covered. It was hard to avoid the thought that to some the Royal Priesthood of the Laity had been held premature in taking the initiative! The consoling counter-thought was that endless Religious Orders had met with similar resistance to humanitarian innovations over the centuries.

The volunteers posed a different problem because they were being asked to give something of themselves and their time rather than material contributions. Some were readily forthcoming; half of our trustees were or had been teachers and could envisage the roles they would perform. Others, who were interested, were frequently older retired people deterred by thinking they had nothing to give, although it was stressed from the beginning that simple ‘befriending’ was a great gift in itself. Yet others were much younger well-educated mothers, keen to introduce Adunni and Yagazie to nutritional science, computerized budgeting and the latest in childcare. How could such a disparate group become welded into a working team, one that was acceptable to our tenants and could win their trust?

There is no easy answer. Gradually, we started to bed down together. The older and more reticent did seem to realize that a willingness, for example, to sit on the floor and absorb Yagazie’s five-year-old boy in doing a jigsaw was a boon to her and that it could wean Robbie from watching endless television cartoons. The young mothers proved an asset in introducing Adunni’s one-year-old to local ‘Mother and Toddler’ groups and exploring free access to junior gymnastics, swimming and out of school activities for Robbie. Nearly all were generous in using their cars to take whoever needed it into the bigger city for legal, hospital and educational appointments as well as to the cheaper outdoor market. New exchanges grew organically, such as baking together and dressmaking. No, it was not perfect. There were the usual abrasions, personal preferences and the reverse. An element I had not foreseen in advance was that in a terraced cottage, the visit of a single volunteer usually meant six people occupying the one sitting room and quite a volume of noise and variety of simultaneous demands for attention. Accustoming Robbie to turn the television off did help.

Where we went wrong

The first three months

From the start our expectations were over-simplistic. Effectively, we assumed that having a small house to themselves and the freedom of a safe (low crime-rate) historic town, Adunni and Yagazie would grasp this new opportunity and want to explore. We took them on long walks to show them the facilities: the parks, playgrounds, lake, and ruined castle as well as the Charity shops, two supermarkets, a farmer’s market, schools, the Public Library, health centre, dentist, Food Bank, Office Bureau and Post Office, with running commentaries on their accessibility, expense and our view of their quality. Yet day after day, in good weather for November, any volunteer who called found them huddled in the sitting room with lights on and blinds down.

It is correct, I think, to call the experiences they had been through ones of ‘domination’ that characterizes modern as it did ancient slavery.[13] However, what we had not appreciated was that domination entails minute controls as well as brutal enforcement and that control induces agential passivity. To be passive, to do nothing, is an ingrained attitude that not to initiate action(s) is to be innocent of infringing prohibitions, even those that had not been verbalized. Conversely, to be ‘active’ was to display initiative if not worse. On their part, we the volunteers were initially seen as replacement authority figures and they awaited our instructions.

Equally, the parishioners had given them a warm welcome, with a mountain of good quality (used) clothes and toys as well as useful gifts. My first surprise was that these young women did not scavenge this mountain for things needful or attractive, but mannerly took a few items that were readily observable. Repetitions of, ‘It’s all for you – take what you want’, merely resulted in multiple trips back for more. Equally, when Olubunmi’s first birthday came several weeks later, her father arrived with a special cake, but so did several parishioners! We may have been the ‘new authorities’ but we were also bearers of gifts – something that Christmas only exacerbated. Obliviously, we were intensifying their trafficked passivity, if in a kinder mode.

My own wake-up moment came over the issue of light bulbs! When one died, they simply told me so with the fairly obvious implication that I would supply replacements. I gave in the first time (it might have been an old bulb) but on the second occasion said firmly that this was a normal event and normal families had to budget for it. However, a regular pattern soon emerged in which a request for something routine was the last question routinely asked as I left! They knew I owned the house, which could not be hidden (local council demands, etc.) and I was on the way to becoming ‘Big Boss’, but now with role reversal; they requested and I was supposed to respond appropriately.

It was the reality principle that rectified this situation. They needed food and baby items, for which they had to exit the house and make choices. Yet we failed to understand the novelty to them of what we took for granted. A perverse effect of one volunteer’s generosity was that she gave supermarket vouchers for £10 to a value of twenty times that. A frequent question on the doorstep became ‘has Anna[14] left us any vouchers this week?’ Vouchers had been reified into substitute purchasing power, divorced from earnings or benefits. It was necessary to tell them when the magic vouchers had run out that there was no ‘Money Tree’.

The second three months

As volunteers/trustees we had monthly meetings and this was when some of our younger members put forward their strategy for combatting domestic passivity. Undoubtedly, they were correct, for example, in condemning the purchase of fizzy drinks on both dental and budgetary grounds. However, their production of a spreadsheet indicating spending priorities out of £55 a week was deemed too directive and patronizing to implement and contradicted our aim of encouraging them to assume personal autonomy. In any case, this proposal sailed too close to a domestic version of post-colonialism; what did we know about their eating preferences, why did some volunteers talk about ‘African foods’ as if there were not major variations within the British Isles, why was a significant amount allocated for (non-prescribed) junior medication? This did contribute to some rifts between us, but after all Adunni had cooked for a family of six for fifteen years. What we gradually learned was how to respond relationally to requests. Our ‘English’ teacher, for example, replied to Yagazie’s question, ‘How did you bake that cake?’ by saying ‘Let’s make one together next time’.

Meanwhile, their two legal appeals for the Right to Remain were slowly but imperceptibly moving through the Home Office system. Finally, I began phoning the London Police Station to discover where Adunni’s case had got to. Realizing how important our intervention was, she voluntarily gave me her large file relating to her appeal over the last two years (the average waiting time for a decision is around eight months). This is from where I acquired the hard evidence and finally realized that there is no neat division of labour between legal aid and its executors and resettlement and its volunteers. Not only may we be in for the long haul, but to be of help we must be willing to move outside our zones of comfort, competence and confidence to be of what aid we could.

What perhaps we got right

The last six months

Conversation Analysts regularly reminded us that the central feature of dialogue is ‘turn taking’. But that assumes many forms. Frequently, ‘Question and Answer’ was necessary, as in ‘Is the central heating working properly?’ or ‘Is the garden door still sticking?’ But there is an equally crucial factor in developing human exchanges beyond the above necessities and this is reciprocity (tempered by legitimate reticence). Without doubt, we volunteers were fascinated to know the histories of our survivors but, fortunately, our ‘middle class’ manners saved us all from blunt voyeurism. Interrogation was out; we all accepted this. But sometimes, questioning was unavoidable, for example in completing a form for the Local Authority about the waiver of Council charges it was necessary to specify the duration and type of forced labour they had undergone. However, we need not be the questioners. In this instance, distancing was possible by encouraging them to fill in their own forms.[15] Then, it was easy enough to say, ‘May I just check that we’ve covered everything?’

There were many lessons that carried over from interviewing techniques in social science. Personally, I had always found ‘ticking boxes’ to be unrevealing. Instead, the lead given by Elizabeth Bott[16] and, later, Doug Porpora[17] had been indispensable to my in-depth interviewing for my trilogy of books on personal reflexivity. The subjects were fellow human beings and a fruitful dialogue ensued only if they were met as such. If the interviewees raised examples involving hair care, car maintenance, child birth, political demonstrations or keeping a dog, I would share my stories on any and all such topics – with amusing anecdotes if possible. The same maintained here; our tenants had suffered enough from coercive hierarchical relations and this was the time to meet them on the horizontal level of our common humanity. It is always amazing how much dense background information is conveyed through this ‘chatter’. For instance, this is how I learned about the ‘loose’ usages of the titles ‘Aunties’ and ‘Uncles’ by both Yoruba and Igbo, unconfined by genealogy, but playing a crucial part in the process of trafficking by means of ‘wooing’ (convincing the victim’s family that they had the young person’s interests at heart). It also spills over into the terminology used by Nigerian traffickers who differentiate the ‘Big Mama’ from the ‘Little Mama’ to designate different strata in the distribution of authority.

Nevertheless, it is sometimes unavoidable for volunteers to pass judgements, either individually or collectively. It has been mentioned that the Parish Finance Committee pays for utility bills. When our Treasurer noted that gas and electricity consumption went up month by month, without the usual summer reduction, and that sitting room lights were on all the time, this could not go unmentioned; it may cost our tenants nothing but this subtracted from Parish generosity to other causes inter alia. In these circumstances we put the case straightforwardly, agreeing in advance that the newborn baby had required more warmth, but now she was thriving at three months old, every effort should be made towards reductions. We mentioned our own attempts at home and told about social housing often having coin-in-the-slot meters. The next bill is awaited, but no offense seemed to have been taken, perhaps attributable to the relationships already established and the tact of our Treasurer.

The summer months were an opportunity to encourage them out of the house and to engage in virtually free outdoor activities as opposed to shopping. Sadly, neither were nature lovers or fond of walking. Expeditions were limited because of the need for a car big enough to accommodate five people plus the driver (some were little people, but this meant fitting baby seats) or driving in convoy. However, both were good mothers and would go more than an extra mile for their children. Our teachers came into their own with local knowledge of schools running summer activities for children with working parents; one volunteer (who had protested she had nothing to offer) turned out to know about activities (fairs and fêtes) in local parks and took them there for picnics; the nearby swimming pool gave Robbie a week’s crash course. Such was his enjoyment that we immediately enrolled him on weekly lessons after school this autumn term and put him on the list for junior gymnastics.

However, some of these were ambiguous experiences. One of the local school’s offers was an occasional day-trip to some attraction, but Yagazie was reluctant to let her son out of her sight. We had to disappoint him by appreciating that at forty and having been through the death of her daughter at three weeks old, Robbie represented her one achievement in life, as we thought she saw it. Yet Yagazie was more complex than we credited. She envisaged a future career as a trained carer in a Care Home, for which she seemed very well suited. After offering herself as an unpaid auxiliary in the plentiful such Homes within this small town, but without success, she took up voluntary work in a Charity shop for the mentally handicapped during school hours, arranged on her own initiative. Thus, we learned to take joy in surprises. After all we were there only to supply an open door to opportunity, not to take the credit for every use made of it.

Finally, we had to face the fact that we had two families living together in one small house. Prior to being referred to us they knew one another only by sight, and had occupied different buildings owned by the first-stage carers. They are very different people, with different trafficking experiences, different Nigerian backgrounds, and different aspirations and needs. The children got on extremely well and Robbie was very affectionate towards his young ‘sisters’. However, what was fun to him – building vast structures from his presents of Lego – was a carpet covered with small pieces of plastic that Olubunmi could pick up and swallow. Domestic routines had to be and were gradually developed.

However, what Adunni and Yagazie shared in common was the black cloud of Home Office inertia and constant awareness of being blocked by legal status or poverty from taking up opportunities. Not surprisingly this resulted in constant anxiety whose outlet was frequently to quarrel with one another over trivialities and then to retell all to one or more of the volunteers. We recognized this as displacement activity but were relieved to find that such antagonism spiked after a few days and then disappeared – until the next time. The relief was that no lasting relational harms seemed to be accumulating, any more than with students who were flat sharing. Perhaps they will not remain as friends once they leave, but meanwhile both reiterate how fortunate they are to have the house, they keep it immaculately clean and are acquiring the self-control not to take every feeling of depression out on the person with whom they temporarily live.


This has been a short story about Structure, Agency and Culture (SAC) and every sociological account, even at the micro level, necessarily comes in a SAC if it is to aspire to adequacy.[18] To attempt a brief, honest summary of the complex relations between these three factors, two relationships stand out. On the one hand, the structural machinery put in place in Britain for dealing with trafficked persons is far from optimal and still over-preoccupied with ‘criminalization’ rather than resettlement. The legal context is one that is dilatory, the solicitors representing victims are too few, and in our experience Police investigations dovetail badly with Court procedures and their need for accurate information. Finally, the burden is passed too readily to voluntary organizations without their receiving the necessary funding or clear guidelines about expectations or entitlements for victims.

On the other hand, crude cultural differences did not play as big a part, especially in this white middle class small town, as we at 3H had feared possible. Despite the sociologists’ (quite brief) affair with so-called ‘Identity Politics’, neither of our tenants accentuated being African, Nigerian, nor members of its main divisions into Yoruba or Igbo. Perhaps a perverse but positive effect of their long periods as trafficked people had been to give them a good command of English, the anticipation of remaining here and the same basic conversancy with our institutions as most British citizens. As one of the few African members of our Church congregation put it; ‘Thank God for what you have done; I feared there would be more racism here’. So did I after the Brexit vote, but when the three children were baptized during Sunday Mass, the faithful got to their feet and applauded.

That brings us to ‘Agency’ and the dependence of all things social on ‘activity dependence’ and, often above all, on human relations. We at 3H had everything to learn and no personal experience upon which to draw! To begin with we had to learn how to work together and it took time to recognize that genuinely, everyone did have something to contribute and to respect. We had to learn to live with individuals’ other commitments and accept that these were just as important as our own. Then, we had to forge individual and collective relationships with Adunni and Yagazie, to take them where we found them and to assist them in where they wanted to go. Most of us were somewhat disconcerted, for example, that they did not plan food shopping together, cook together, or eat at the table together (indeed, Robbie preferred the floor). However, our aim was never to impose ergonomic efficiency and we all slowly learned to ‘live and let live’. Now, we hope that despite our stumbling ineptitude that we can stimulate other churches and associations in our small town to join in similar initiatives, for which there is no blueprint and every one starting from zero has to learn as they go on in goodwill.

But, for our first test, we were blessed with two young, resilient women, with a determination to forge a life of their own and for their children in this country. Trust is often misrepresented in the social sciences as a predicate for diverse groups working together, but first it has to be generated between them and it can later degenerate amongst them. Our task, beginning from ground zero, was to put ourselves and our survivors together in a relationship that fostered the emergent property and power of trust and produced further relational goods. This is demanding on both parties, in both words and deeds, but without it nothing constructive can get off the ground.

Lessons were learned or implicitly recognised from this small experience. There are powerful messages about the nature of law reform and the achingly slow process of making legal norms and rules address a pressing social problem. The policy-making and legal frameworks matter and have direct impacts on trafficked individuals. Proposals contained in the Modern Slavery (Victim Support) Bill (HL Bill 4 2017-19), a Private Member’s bill that received its second reading on 8 September and is now in Committee, are worthwhile. The Bill provides a statutory basis for support with a legal duty to ensure that any potential victim of modern slavery will be granted assistance and support, with temporary admission into the UK for a period of reflection and recovery of up to 45 days. This would also provide a time frame for the status of a victim of slavery to be determined by the requisite authority, namely the National Crime Agency’s Modern Slavery Human Trafficking Unit and the Home Office Visas and Immigration. After the initial 45-day period, a grant to remain visa for a further twelve months would be available with further assistance and support provided. The terms of the Bill include broadly defined support such as safe and appropriate accommodation, material assistance, including finance, medical advice and treatment, counselling, a support worker, translation services as well as help with specialist legal advice and assistance including, where necessary and preferred, help with repatriation.

Such a range of support is all-important and reflects the needs of the trafficked person. Unfortunately progress is too often too little and too late. The Modern Slavery Act 2015 was a necessary first step, although with too much emphasis on criminal prosecutions. Lessons gained over the past two years have shown that while prosecutions are desirable, they are rare. Despite the Act, victims remain vulnerable and in many cases left in a legal vacuum reliant on scarce resources and challenges to access specialist legal advice. This problem has been exacerbated by legal aid cuts. Voluntary organisations do their best, but are under increasing pressures because of limited resources. Currently, the mechanisms for identifying victims and providing support leave them with no formal legal immigration status or rights. As a consequence, there are instances of victims reduced to destitution or continued enslavement. Authorities are perceived by victims as unhelpful and at times hostile. Finding a pathway to full participation in society is random and left to luck rather than sound procedures. The lack of support means that making ends meet can be a daily struggle, especially when confronted with a new language, domestic culture and, in many cases, the lack of the necessary documentation to progress their lives and educate their children to their full potential.

Undoubtedly at some stage in the future the Modern Slavery Act should be the subject of post-legislative scrutiny to determine how it has worked. In the meantime, the needs of victims are critical, especially with increasing numbers being trafficked in what is now a lucrative trade. Ignoring victims comes at great cost, as properly protected they may provide the necessary evidence to aid the detection of the planners and directors of human trafficking. Legislative solutions are important in taking matters forward, but no one should be in doubt that legislative quick fixes may salve the consciences of politicians and facilitate elections, but rarely do they deliver all that is needed. The Modern Slavery Act has revealed the extent of the problem and unearthed the real human need for better protection for victims. It is our humanity that requires this need to be addressed. Individual efforts may make a difference while accepting that there is no quick fix, but a full-scale consideration of the needs of the victims of human trafficking in the context of simplifying the law and providing trafficked victims with at least the same rights as asylum seekers is an urgent necessity.

[1] Pope Francis, Angelus, Saint Peter’s Square, Sunday, 6 September 2015.
[2] PASS Workshop, 2013, Trafficking in Human Beings: Modern Slavery.
[3] Home Office: Victims of Modern Slavery (Version 3), March 2016.
[4] Margaret S. Archer and Marcelo Sánchez Sorondo (Eds.), 2016, Human Trafficking: Issues beyond Criminalization, Acta 20, Libreria Editrice Vaticana, Vatican City.  
[5] John McEldowney, ‘A UK Perspective on Human Trafficking: Aspects of the Modern Slavery Act 2015’, Ibid., pp. 191-212.  
[6] Home Office, 2016, The Modern Slavery Act Review.
[7] All quotations are from a communication from the Independent Commissioner to the Home Office dated 10 January 2017.
[8] Modern Slavery (Victim Support) Bill, House of Lords, 26 June 2017.
[9] These are pseudonyms.
[10] 3 November 2016.
[11] N v D (Customary Marriage) [2015] EWFC28.
[12] For example, the Local District Council will neither grant nor deny the waiver of Council Tax upon the 3H house – whether Adunni is considered a trafficked person or an asylum seeker and legally she is both – even though a waiver would reduce Council obligations to furnish scarce social housing for the five families of those coming from Syria, as recognized by the Government flying them in as ‘successful’ asylum seekers. We have now been waiting 18 months for a decision on this matter.
[13] Margaret S. Archer, 2015, ‘Being Trafficked to Work: How can Human Trafficking be made Unsustainable?’ P.S. Dasgupta, V. Ramanathan, M. Sánchez Sorondo (eds.), Sustainable Humanity; Sustainable Nature; Our Responsibility, Libreria Editrice Vaticana, Vatican City.  
[14] Pseudonyms are used throughout.
[15] We were greatly helped by their fluency in spoken and written English, given the length of time they had spent in England.
[16] Elizabeth Bott, 1971, Family and Social Network, London, Tavistock.
[17] Douglas V. Porpora, 2001, Landscapes of the Soul, Oxford, Oxford University Press.
[18] Margaret S. Archer, 2013, ‘Social Morphogenesis and the Prospects of Morphogenic Society’, in Archer (ed.), Social Morphogenesis, Dordrecht, Springer.

The Relational Subject – Pierpaolo Donati and Margaret S. Archer

Many social theorists now call themselves ‘relational sociologists’, but mean entirely different things by it. The majority endorse a ‘flat ontology’, dealing exclusively with dyadic relations. Consequently, they cannot explain the context in which relationships occur or their consequences, except as resultants of endless ‘transactions’.

This book adopts a different approach which regards ‘the relation’ itself as an emergent property, with internal causal effects upon its participants and external ones on others. The authors argue that most ‘relationists’ seem unaware that analytical philosophers, such as Searle, Gilbert and Tuomela, have spent years trying to conceptualize the ‘We’ as dependent upon shared intentionality.

Donati and Archer change the focus away from ‘We thinking’ and argue that ‘We-ness’ derives from subjects’ reflexive orientations towards the emergent relational ‘goods’ and ‘evils’ they themselves generate. Their approach could be called ‘relational realism’, though they suggest that realists, too, have failed to explore the ‘relational subject’.

The Relational Subject is  published by Cambridge University Press. See here for publisher details or here for Amazon.

On the Vocation of Sociology as Morphogenesis Intensifies

Sociology was born seeking answers to four questions: “Where have we come from?,” “What is it like now?,” “Where are we going?,” and “What is to be done?” These are all realist questions: there is a real social world with real properties inhabited by real people who collectively made the past and whose causal powers are already shaping the future. One way in which Weber expressed the vocation of sociology was to discover why things are “so” and not “otherwise.” Those who have made this commitment could never accept Baudrillard’s conclusion: “All that remains to be done is to play with the pieces.” Ibn Khaldun might have called that the hallmark of a decadent civilization.

What is more damaging than postmodernist “playfulness” is actually breaking up the pieces. All social life – micro-, meso- and macroscopic – necessarily comes in a SAC; the relations between “structure,” “agency,” and “culture” are always indispensable to explaining anything social.

Without being fussy about definitions, leave out “structure” and the contexts people face become kaleidoscopically contingent; omit culture and no one has a repertoire of ideas for construing the situations that they confront; without agency we lose activity-dependence as the efficient cause of there being a social order. The vocation of sociology is to account for their interplay and resulting configurations. By breaking up the pieces and then pulverizing them, too many social theorists have renounced their vocations and become morticians, writing out death certificates for each component of SAC. Yet, with these “deaths” every part of the world is deprived of its toolkit for explaining why things are so and how they could be otherwise.

Where “structures” are concerned, current “de-structuration” theories replace them with flows. The metaphor of liquidity points to the ultimate uncontrollability of the social. This was heralded by the “runaway,” “juggernaut,” and “risk” societies, but the flood has gained momentum and is floating out into the sea of self-organized phenomena charted by complexity theory. However, unfitness for purpose is glaring in the face of the current economic crisis. This crisis has revealed part of a structure previously occluded. We know more now about the structuring of global finance capital and its intertwining with the multinationals and national governments than ever before 2008. All that is solid has not melted into air, but derivatives, sub-prime mortgages, foreign exchange dealing and debt trading take more understanding than Fordism.

Because the structured positions, relations, and interests are indeed complicated, the media have trivialized and personalized the crisis in terms of bankers’ bonuses and helping some greedy heads to roll. The “Occupy movements” testify to the missing sociological toolkit. Are they opposing austerity measures or global finance capitalism? Whilst London seemed unsure, the Geneva movement holds regular seminars in which to come to grips with the intricacies involved. Associations of heterodox economists have generally been of more assistance than sociologists. Where is our equivalent to Stefano Zamagni’s analysis of the damaging contributions made by the last ten Nobel Prize winners in economics? What has our contribution been to envisaging a civil economy?

This leads to “culture” and the huge role that TINA (“there is no alternative”) has played in the attempt to return to “business as usual.” The “cultural turn” privileged discourse, but the crisis cannot be reduced to the discursive. The hegemony of discourse displaced the concept of ideology, consigning it to the trash can of “zombie” class warfare. With it, the crucial nexus between ideas and interests was lost as the site of legitimation politics. Lost too were ideational sources of critique, not merely as expressive activities (there is plenty on them), but as resources in social mobilization (whose absence empowers TINA). Ironically, as the flows turn into floods, there is a perverse clinging to habit, dispositional habitus and routine action in sociology, despite their incongruity with rapid change. Yet, as the great American pragmatists were the first to stress it, problem situations are the midwives of reflexive innovation.

Finally, and most serious is the death of the subject, erased as Foucault put it more than 40 years ago, “like a face drawn in sand at the edge of the sea.” Since then our human erasure has been repeated by many board-cleaners: persons becoming open slates for self-inscription (Gergen), serially re-invented selves (Beck), and ultimately, demotion to the agential “actant.” With the death of the subject, intentionality, reflexivity, caring, and commitment also make their exit, together with the uniquely human capacity to envisage how the social could be “otherwise.”

Those defending our human liabilities and potentialities have been quite rare; hence Andrew Sayer’s need to write his excellent book on Why Things Matter to People. Sociology retains a humanistic strand but its approach to the humane is rather stifled. Thus, loneliness and isolation are not popular themes compared with marginalization and exclusion, but they are just as much scourges of the developed world and among its exports. Sociologists are also more forceful in accentuating our susceptibility to suffering than to flourishing. We have been too timid about advancing a “Sociology of Thriving,” largely limiting ourselves to indisputable biological needs. Why is there no sociology of joy, little mention of exultation or rich contentment and why is happiness left to the metrics of economists? Answering these questions is a predicate of sociology contributing to the definition of a flourishing civil society.

Today, the leading trope is “liquid modernity,” but metaphors explain nothing and often mislead (remember the mechanical, organic and cybernetic similes). Particular theories of change have accentuated one element of SAC alone: “culture” for “Information Society;” “structure” for “Globalized Capitalism” or “Empire;” and “agency” for the “institutionalized individualism” of “Reflexive Modernization.” Each seizes upon one (empirically striking) component, considers it to be the leading part and wrongly equates it with the generative mechanism of change. Instead, we need to examine the SAC synergies and positive feedbacks making social morphogenesis the process responsible for intensifying change – in a non-metaphorical manner.

– Margaret Archer

This was originally published in Global Dialogue: Newsletter of the International Sociological Association, 3:1. It is reproduced here with permission. 

Socialization as Reflexive Engagement

XV Congresso Brasileiro de Sociologia
Realizado de 26 a 29 de julho de 2011, em Curitiba-PR.

Current sociological theories of socialization cannot grasp the dynamics of the identity building processes in the nascent morphogenetic society. In fact, they are heavily biased by an orientation to the structural and cultural features characterizing Modern society, which do not hold in the new societal context. Building on the insights of the realist-morphogenetic approach and of relational social theory, the paper goes on to provide a reconceptualization of socialization as reflexive engagement, which meets the two basic challenges presented by the morphogenetic society for young people to develop a full personal and social identity: ‘the necessity of selection’ and the need ‘to shape a life’. This is therefore an account of how young people come to decide about their own set of concerns, prioritizing and dovetailing them, and investing their time and energies in a life project. Such an approach is also critical of all theories which reduce socialization to linguistically mediated relations, and articulates the relational condition of human subjects with respect to the natural, practical, and social order. It also maintains that the time of socialization by the internalization of habits or habitus is over.