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‘The Life of Individuals as well as of Nations’: International Law and the League of Nations’ Anti-Trafficking Governmentalities


This paper will address an often-neglected agenda of the much-derided League of Nations: its ‘social’ and ‘technical’ works. These targeted human security through regulating different forms of international mobility, including the fight against trafficking in women and children. The League used conventions and conferences to commit nation-states, in a legal model, to standardized anti-trafficking measures. It also, however, worked to educate and inform states, voluntary organizations, and the general public about the nature of trafficking and the ways of combating it. The latter techniques are here interpreted using Foucault's governmentality writings, which encourage us to look beyond the juridical epistemologies of international relations and international law, but not beyond the interlacing of laws and norms, here explored through interwar League governmentalities.

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1 Pedersen, S., ‘Back to the League of Nations’, (2007) 112 American Historical Review 1091, at 56.

2 Ibid., at 1108: ‘In addition to peacekeeping and managing relations of sovereignty, the League had a third task: fostering international cooperation to address transnational problems or traffics that had been the subject of humanitarian concern and rudimentary intergovernmental collaboration before the war.’

3 F. P. Walters, A History of the League of Nations (1952), 175.

4 This paper is in part an attempt to reinsert the League into narratives of the shift from slavery to trafficking, many of which gloss over the interwar period, such as the otherwise excellent J. Doezema, Sex Slaves and Discourse Masters: The Construction of Trafficking (2010).

5 Oxford English Dictionary (1989), online version, June 2011.

6 For earlier, comparable comments on the family and the home within nation-states, see M. Foucault, Security, Territory, Population: Lectures at the Collège de France 1977–78 (2007), 104.

7 M. Foucault, The History of Sexuality Volume 1: The Will to Knowledge (1979), 140.

8 M. Foucault, Power/Knowledge: Selected Interviews and Other Writings 1972–1977 (1980), 121. For a critical review of Foucault's work on law, see A. Hunt and G. Wickham, Foucault and Law: Towards a Sociology of Law as Governance (1994).

9 Foucault, supra note 7, at 136 (emphasis in original).

10 M. Foucault, Society Must Be Defended: Lectures at the Collège de France 1975–76 (2003), 241.

11 M. Foucault, supra note 6.

12 P. Chatterjee, Lineages of Political Society: Studies in Postcolonial Democracy (2011), 8.

13 Foucault, supra note 6, at 57.

14 Ibid., at 56.

15 Ewald, F., ‘Norms, Discipline, and the Law’, (1990) 30 Representations 138, at 155.

16 See, e.g., Tadros, V., ‘Between Governance and Discipline: The Law and Michel Foucault’, (1998) 18 Oxford Journal of Legal Studies 75.

17 B. Golder and P. Fitzpatrick, Foucault's Law (2008).

18 E.g., the limitation of sovereign power through the law and law-market apparatus of ‘veridiction’; see M. Foucault, The Birth of Biopolitics: Lectures at the Collège de France 1978–79 (2008), 32.

19 Foucault, supra note 7, at 90.

20 Rose, N. and Valverde, M., ‘Governed by Law?’, (1998) 7 Social Legal Studies, at 541.

21 Ewald, supra note 15, at 153.

22 Rose and Valverde, supra note 20, at 542.

23 Ibid. On the self-subjection/subjectification relationship, see J. Butler, Psychic Life of Power: Theories in Subjection (1997).

24 Foucault, supra note 18, at 56.

25 Foucault, supra note 6, Chapter 12.

26 Larner, W. and Walters, W., ‘Introduction: Global Governmentality’, in Larner, W. and Walters, W. (eds.), Global Governmentality: Governing International Spaces (2004), 1, at 2.

27 Neumann, I. B. and Sending, O. J., “‘The International” as Governmentality’, (2007) 35 Millennium – Journal of International Studies 677. Also see Kiersey, N. J. and Stokes, D. (eds.), Foucault and International Relations: New Critical Engagements (2011).

28 Golder, B. E. N., ‘Foucault and the Incompletion of Law’, (2008) 21 LJIL 747, at 749.

29 See Pemberton, J.-A., ‘New Worlds for Old: The League of Nations in the Age of Electricity’, (2002) 28 RIS 311.

30 Ekbladh, D., ‘Exile Economics: The Transnational Contributions and Limits of the League of Nations’ Economic and Financial Section’, (2010) 4 New Global Studies, Article 9.

31 Pemberton, supra note 29, at 321.

32 Tambe, A., ‘Climate, Race Science and the Age of Consent in the League of Nations’, (2011) 28 Theory, Culture Society 109; Kozma, L., ‘The League of Nations and the Debate over Cannabis Prohibition’, (2011) 9 History Compass 61.

33 Also see Legg, S., ‘Inter-War Spatial Chaos? Imperialism, Internationalism and the League of Nations’, in Legg, S. (ed.), Spatiality, Sovereignty and Carl Schmitt: Geographies of the Nomos (2011), 106.

34 Weindling, P., ‘Introduction: Constructing International Health between the Wars’, in Weindling, P. (ed.), International Health Organisations and Movements 1918–39 (1995), 1.

35 Dunbabin, J. P., ‘The League of Nations’ Place in the International System’, (1993) 78 Journal of the Historical Association 421, at 433.

36 Smith, M., ‘The League of Nations and International Politics’, (1976) 2 British Journal of International Studies 311, at 320.

37 Walters, supra note 3, at 750.

38 See Mazumdar, P. M. H., ‘“In the Silence of the Laboratory”: The League of Nations Standardizes Syphilis Tests’, (2003) 16 Social History of Medicine 437.

39 Walters, supra note 3, at 750.

40 Ibid., at 176 ff.

41 J. C. Coyajee, India and the League of Nations (1932), 191.

42 Metzger, B., ‘Towards an International Human Rights Regime during the Interwar Years: The League of Nations’ Combat of Traffic in Women and Children’, in Grant, K., Levine, P., and Trentmann, F. (eds.), Beyond Sovereignty: Britain, Empire and Transnationalism, c.1880–1950 (2007), 54; Gorman, D., ‘Empire, Internationalism, and the Campaign against the Traffic in Women and Children in the 1920s’, (2008) 19 Twentieth Century British History 186; S. A. Limoncelli, The Politics of Trafficking: The First International Movement to Combat the Sexual Exploitation of Women (2010).

43 See B. Metzger, ‘The League of Nations and Human Rights: From Practice to Theory’ (2001, unpublished doctoral thesis, University of Cambridge) for League debates and actions over the rights of refugees, children, and trafficked individuals. For more contemporary work on international law, sex, and rights, see Gross, A. M., ‘Sex, Love, and Marriage: Questioning Gender and Sexuality Rights in International Law’, (2008) 21 LJIL 235.

44 C. A. Miller, ‘The Social Section and Advisory Committee on Social Questions at the League of Nations’, in International Health Organisations and Movements, 1918–39 (1995), 154, at 158.

45 Doezema, supra note 4; the evolution of the anti-TWC movement in the Netherlands, France, and Italy has also been traced by Limoncelli, supra note 42.

46 League of Nations, Report of the Special Body of Experts on Traffic in Women and Children: Part I (1927), 7.

47 Ibid., at 8.

48 ‘International Conferences in 1920’ (1920), The Shield, Fifth Series, III(2), 1.

49 League of Nations, Diplomatic Conference Concerning the Suppression of Traffic in Women of Full Age (1933).

50 League of Nations, Advisory Committee on the Traffic in Women and Children: Minutes of the First Session, Geneva June 29th–July 1st (1922), 4.

51 Furse, K., ‘The Seventh International Congress for the Suppression of Traffic in Women and Children’, (1927) II Health and Empire 133.

52 On the League's more specific work on intellectual co-operation, see Laqua, D., ‘Transnational Intellectual Cooperation, the League of Nations, and the Problem of Order’, (2011) 6 Journal of Global History 223.

53 Schmitt, C., ‘Großraum versus Universalism: The International Legal Struggle over the Monroe Doctrine’ (translated by Hannah, M. G.), in Legg, S. (ed.), Spatiality, Sovereignty and Carl Schmitt: Geographies of the Nomos (2011 [1939]), 46.

54 Rasulov, A., ‘Writing about Empire: Remarks on the Logic of a Discourse’, (2010) 23 LJIL 449.

55 J. Farley, To Cast Out Disease: A History of the International Health Division of the Rockefeller Foundation (1913–1951) (2004).

56 A. Flexner, Prostitution in Europe (1914).

57 League of Nations, supra note 46, at 5.

58 D. J. Pivar, Purity and Hygiene: Women, Prostitution, and the ‘America Plan’, 1900–1930 (2002), 109.

59 Furse, supra note 51, at 134.

60 ‘Summary of the Report of the Special Body of Experts on Traffic in Women and Children’, (1927) II Health and Empire 109; ‘League of Nations’ Report on Traffic in Women’ (1927), The Shield, Third Series, V(3), 109; and ‘Full Summary of the Report of the Special Body of Experts on Traffic in Women and Children’ (1927), The Shield, Third Series, V(3), 129.

61 League of Nations, supra note 46, at 9.

62 Ibid., at 9.

63 ‘League of Nations: Report of the Fifth Committee’ (1935), The Shield, Fifth Series, IV(2), 50.

64 League of Nations, supra note 46, at 24.

65 W. Stead, ‘The Maiden Tribute of Modern Babylon I: The Report of our Secret Commission’, Pall Mall Gazette, 6 July 1885.

66 League of Nations, supra note 46, at 7; see also ‘Laws against Traffic in Women etc.: Extracts from Criminal Laws’ (1938), The Shield, Fifth Series, VI(3), 130.

67 NA/Home(Judicial)/1929/843/29.

68 League of Nations, supra note 46, at 14.

69 League of Nations, Advisory Committee on the Traffic in Women and Children: Minutes of the Second Session: Geneva March 22nd to 27th 1923 (1923).

70 League of Nations, Advisory Committee on the Traffic in Women and Children: Minutes of the Third Session: Geneva April 7th–11th 1924 (1924).

71 League of Nations, Abstract of the Reports from Governments on the System of Licensed Houses as Related to Traffic in Women and Children (1927).

72 Furse, K., ‘Part of the Social Work of the League of Nations’, (1928) III Health and Empire 127, at 131.

73 Furse, supra note 51.

74 Furse, supra note 72.

75 League of Nations, Study of Laws and Regulations with a View to Protecting Public Order and Health in Countries where the System of Licensed Houses Has Been Abolished (1930).

76 National Archives, New Delhi, India/Home(Public)/1931/32/11/31.

77 For work on the tailoring of trafficking policies to India, and the uptake of League work by an India-based anti-brothel campaigner, see Legg, S., ‘Of Scales, Networks and Assemblages: The League of Nations Apparatus and the Scalar Sovereignty of the Government of India’, (2009) 34 Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers NS 234; Legg, S., ‘Governing Prostitution in Colonial Delhi: From Cantonment Regulations to International Hygiene (1864–1939)’, (2009) 34 Social History 447. For comparable work on Siam, see S. Hell, Siam and the League of Nations: Modernisation, Sovereignty and Multilateral Diplomacy, 1920–1940 (2010).

* Dr, PhD, Associate Professor; School of Geography, University of Nottingham [].

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