Follow-the-thing methods to study illicit reptile trafficking

16 Jan 2023
16 Jan 2023

Follow-the-thing methods to study illicit reptile trafficking is the title of the presentation by Dr Annette Hübschle at the 15th Conference of the Herpetological Association of Africa. Held from the 16 – 19 January 2023, Hoedspruit, Limpopo, South Africa

Dr Hübschle introduces an ongoing social science project entitled TRANSFORM Trafficking Transformations. The project employs an innovative, multidisciplinary, object-centred methodological framework to understand the physical and contextual changes that rare and illicit 'criminogenic collectables' undergo during the trafficking process in three transnational criminal markets: antiquities, rare wildlife, and fossils. It explores the socio-economic effect of the objects being trafficked in these cross-border international illicit trades on the participants in the transnational criminal networks that move the objects. By moving the focus in commodity trafficking research away from the usual approach to studying the people involved, towards a new approach that follows the objects of desire, this project explores the broad and unusual question: How do objects cause crimes? As criminogenic collectables are trafficked from source to the market, their movements through different contexts and their social transformations during the smuggling process constitute an object biography that, when recorded, reveals significant information about the construction and functioning of illicit trafficking networks. Within this framing, borrowed from anthropology and archaeology, objects are considered to be agents in the networks that they are part of, and they influence the other agents (e.g., humans) in the network. If we focus on the biography of the trafficked object and the object's role as an agent within a network, we can document the transformations that link low level criminal activity (e.g., looting, theft, and poaching) to transnational organised crime, and on to white collar crime at the receiving (collecting) end of the market.

We are currently working on two reptile object biographies - snakes of the genus Bitis and the giant girdled lizard.

See the conference schedule attached >>>