Modern slavery: the role of prototypes in categorizing extreme labor exploitation

Research Cluster

Speaker:Dr Robert Caruana, Nottingham University Business School
Date: Wednesday 16 November 2016
Time: 16:00 - 18:00
Location: Building One: Matrix Lecture Theatre

Further details

Prototypes have long been acknowledged as playing a critical role in the emergence and consolidation of new organizational and market categories.  However, the precise forms, characteristics, and effects of prototypes in the categorization process remain unclear. We address this gap by conducting a discourse analysis of business, government and civil society submissions to, and media accounts of, the UK’s Modern Slavery Act, 2015.  This analysis sheds light on the contestation and formalization of the category of modern slavery as a way of conceptualizing extreme labour exploitation. Our findings reveal that contrary to existing research, the role of prototypes in categorization is heterogeneous. Our analysis revealed four different general forms of prototype, namely typifying, mobilizing, familiarizing, and scoping prototypes. These prototypes conceptualize modern slavery as a point on a continuum of exploitation (typifying), novel and extreme (mobilizing), as similar to other related practices (familiarizing), as and as having incomplete or unsettled boundaries (scoping). Forming around discursive subjects (e.g. perpetrators / victims) and practices (e.g. violence / incarceration / extortion), we show how each prototype draws on different linguistic mechanics and gives rise to distinct cognitive schemas that frame alternate conceptions of modern slavery. Having presented our theoretical refinement of categorization theory I will discuss potential empirical pathways at the intersection between Modern Slavery and food related research, in light of the propensity to extreme exploitation to in regions of agricultural fragility. 


Robert Caruana is an Associate Professor in Business Ethics at the International Centre for Corporate Social Responsibility (ICCSR) of Nottingham University Business School. His research interests include corporate and consumer responsibility, labour exploitation, power relations and critical discourse analysis, publishing in journals such as Organization Studies, Journal of Business Ethics, Marketing Theory, European Journal of Marketing and Annals of Tourism Research. His most recent work explores the emergence of Modern Slavery as a legal category and has been working on a research project specifically examining corporate-public discourse around the UK Modern Slavery Act 2015.