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The Politics of Human Trafficking: Conducting In-Person Interviews During Fieldwork in Eastern Europe

By: Published: 2019 | Product: SAGE Research Methods Cases Part 2
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This study focuses on the topic of human trafficking in Eastern Europe (specifically, a case study of Lithuania). During my Fulbright stay in the country in 2011–2012, I was perplexed by official refusal to acknowledge an extent of human trafficking occurring to/from Lithuania. I was also puzzled about significant discrepancies in the numbers of trafficking victims reported by Lithuanian government and non-governmental organizations, and referenced in academic publications. Such inconsistencies in data and public narratives suggested to me that human trafficking is treated as a highly sensitive and politicized issue in the country. My project’s goal was to find out through in-person interviews with different actors—namely, anti-trafficking non-governmental organizations’ staff, government officials, and academics (a total of 21 respondents)—potential reasons behind politicization of, and sensitivity toward, the scope of human trafficking phenomenon present in Lithuania. Based on my summer-long field research in Lithuania in 2014, which was funded by an International Research and Exchange Board, Short-Term Grant, this study identifies and discusses the methodological and logistical research challenges, specifically addressing questions such as why in-person interviewing was chosen as a research method and what kind of challenges researchers may face in sampling strategies and in preparation for interviews on a politically sensitive topic, and, finally, highlighting specific problems related to qualitative interview-based research in the Eastern European context.

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