The Banality of Good


ACLS Fellowship Program




“The Banality of Good” grapples with a paradox of contemporary human rights work: How can we address intimate experiences of unspeakable violence—forced labor, daily beatings, emotional abuse, starvation, and enslavement—through standardized, procedural, calculated bureaucratic practice? Drawing on ten years of research on contemporary campaigns to fight human trafficking to Japan, this project explores how such efforts address intimate violations of human rights through formulaic official procedure. It considers the social and cultural effects of this new institutionalized approach to human rights, and it examines the globalized moral landscapes and models for ethical personhood emerging through it. Borrowing from Hannah Arendt’s use of the term banality, which for her results from the inability to engage in a critical self-dialogue and see the world from another’s perspective, this project considers how anti-human trafficking campaigns’ routine bureaucratic practices evacuate critical perspectives and cultural difference in the name of human rights.