My research straddles criminology sociology and anthropology and focuses on the experiences and representations of criminalised marginalised and stigmatised migrant groups.
My work is qualitative and based on an ethnographic long term engagement with the people and communities with whom I undertake my research.
I am also a filmmaker and my films complement my academic writing and emerge through the collaboration with migrants and sex workers and by expressing their perspectives priorities and needs.
I believe collaborative filmmaking is a way to create knowledge together with people who are directly concerned and to make sure that they own the terms of their representations.
My ambition is that the films and publications that result from my work will reach out further from the academic world into public and political debates and that they will contribute to changing policies according to the priorities and needs of their protagonists.
In the future I would like to continue my work on migration by focusing on the relationship with climate change the transition to green societies and the displacements and mobilities that are emerging in the process.
More information on my films as well as their trailers and some of their full videos are available on my Vimeo profile: https://vimeo.com/user3467382
Before coming to Leicester in 2021 I worked for a year as Professor of Sociology at the University of Newcastle in Australia.
Between 2015 and 2020 I worked as Professor of Sociology and Migration Studies at Kingston University London where I delivered SEXHUM (www.sexhum.org) a four-year (2016-2020) ERC-funded project on migrant sex workers’ understandings and experiences of agency and exploitation in Australia France New Zealand and the US.
Before then I worked for ten years for London Metropolitan University where between 2008 and 2010 I directed the 'Migrant Workers in the UK Sex Industry' ESRC project which produced 100 qualitative interviews and found that only a minority of people were trafficked.
Between 2006 and 2008 I delivered together with the other members of the research team the ‘Rhythms and Realities of Everyday Life' flagship project of the Joseph Rowntree Foundation Immigration and Inclusion programme focusing on the relationship between long-term residents and new arrivals in six sites across the UK.
Mai, N. (2018) Mobile Orientations. An Intimate Autoethnography of Migration, Sex Work and Humanitarian Borders. Chicago: Chicago University Press. The book received the American Sociological Association Sexualities Section 2020 Distinguished Book Award.
Hickman, M., Mai, N. and Crowley, H. (2012) Migration and Social Cohesion in the UK. Palgrave Macmillan.
Mai, N., Macioti, PG, Bennachie, C., Fehrenbacher A. E., Giametta, C., Hoefinger, H. and Musto, J. (2021) 'Migration, Sex Work and Trafficking: the Racialized Bordering Politics of Sexual Humanitarianism', Ethnic and Racial Studies, 44(9): 1607-1628.
Fehrenbacher, A., Musto, J., Hoefinger, H., Mai, N., Macioti, PG, Giametta, C. and Calum Bennachie, C. (2020) 'Transgender People and Human Trafficking: Intersectional Exclusion of Transgender Migrants and People of Color from Anti-trafficking Protection in the United States', Journal of Human Trafficking 6(2): 182-194.
Hoefinger, H., Musto, J., Macioti, PG., Fehrenbacher, A., Mai, N., Bennachie, C. and Giametta, C. (2019) 'Community-Based Responses to Negative Health Impacts of Sexual Humanitarian Anti-Trafficking Policies and the Criminalization of Sex Work and Migration in the US', Social Sciences. 9. 1. 10.3390/socsci9010001.
Mai N. (2017) 'Mobile Orientations: An Autoethnography of Tunisian Professional Boyfriends', Sexualities 20(4): 482-496.
Mai, N. (2016) "Too Much Suffering": Understanding the Interplay Between Migration, Bounded Exploitation and Trafficking Through Nigerian Sex Workers' Experiences', Sociological Research Online 21(4): 1-14. Available online: http://www.socresonline.org.uk/21/4/13.html - DOI: 10.5153/sro.4158
Mai, N. (2013) 'Embodied Cosmopolitanisms: the Subjective Mobility of Migrants Working in the Global Sex Industry', Gender, Place and Culture 20(1): 107-124.
Mai, N. (2012) 'The Fractal Queerness of Non-Heteronormative Migrants Working in the UK Sex Industry', Sexualities 15(5-6): 570-585.
Mai, N. (2009) 'Between Minor and Errant Mobility: the Relation Between the Psychological Dynamics and the Migration Patterns of Young Men Selling Sex in the EU', Mobilities, 4(3): 349-366.
Mai, N. and King, R. (2009) 'Love, Sexuality and Migration: Mapping the Issue(s)', Mobilities, 4(3): 295-307.
Mai, N. (2005) 'The Albanian Diaspora in the Making: Media, Transnational Identities and Migration', Journal of Ethnic and Migration Studies 31(3): 543-561.
I am happy to accept applications to supervise PhDs on the following topics:
Climate change migration and asylum
Environmental migration and displacement
Gender sexuality and migration
Smuggling and trafficking
Migration and asylum
Sexuality gender and crime
Humanitarian governance and interventions
CR7145 Criminal Justice Professions: Policy and Practice
Press and media
My art-science, collaborative and ethnographic documentaries challenge prevailing humanitarian representations of all migrant sex workers as trafficked while addressing the complex experiences of exploitation and autonomy of the people involved.
Normal – real stories from the sex industry (Mai 2012; 48 min) portrays the experiences of self-affirmation and of exploitation of male, female and transgender migrant sex workers working in the sex industry in Albania, Italy and the United Kingdom. Trailer: https://vimeo.com/50289487.
Normal was screened at the Raindance International Film Festival 2012. Scholarly as well as general public screenings of Normal have taken place in several UK cities: London (UCL, Goldsmiths, LSHTM, LSE), Bristol, Manchester, at the Universities of Durham, Oxford, Glasgow, Birmingham, Leicester, as well as in Copenhagen (University of Roskilde), Paris (EHESS), New York (Columbia University and New School), Los Angeles (University of Irvine), Rome (MAXXI Museum), Bologna (University of Bologna), Salamanca (University of Salamanca), Hamilton (NZ – Waikato University) and Bangkok.
In 2014 and 2015 I was based at the Mediterranean Laboratory of Sociology - LAMES (MMSH/Aix -Marseille University) in order to direct the Emborders project, comparing the impact of humanitarian interventions targeting migrant sex workers and sexual minority asylum seekers in the UK (London) and France (Marseille/Paris) through ethnographic research and experimental filmmaking. The project was the context for the making of Samira (2013) and Travel (2016).
Samira (Mai 2013; 27 min) is an art-science installation on the story of Karim, an Algerian refugee that having obtained asylum as a trans woman now wants to go back home to become the male head of his family. Trailer: https://vimeo.com/84704860
Samira is available in two formats: installation and film. The installation was showed at the Museum of Tapestries in Aix en Provence in October 2013 and at ‘la compagnie, lieu de creation’ gallery in Marseille from December 2013 to March 2014 in the context of the antiAtlas of borders art-science project. In 2016 the two installations Samira and Travel were part of the Accés(s) – cultures électroniques festival in Pau. The film was screened at IMéRA in Marseille and at the Pavillon Vendôme in Paris in 2013. In 2014 it was presented at the Cube in the context of Digital Anthropologies, at the UCLA as part of its Art-Sci programme, and MAXXI Museum in Rome, at the International Festival in Ferrara (IT), at the University of Bologna and at the University of Birmingham. In February 2015, it was screened at the EHESS (Écoles des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales) in Paris, at the Institute of Education (UCL, London) and at the International Conference of Geography of Sexuality in Rome. In 2016, it was screened at the Desir/Desirs Festival in Tours (France), at the International Queer Migrant Film Festival in Amsterdam, at the Akademie der Bildenden Künste in Vienna and at the Columbia University Centre in Paris. In 2017, Samira was screened at the University of Birmingham (LGBT History Month) and, together with Normal, in Antwerp (Filmhuis Klappei), Belgium.
Travel (Mai 2016; 63 min) is an ethnofiction about a Nigerian woman selling sex in Paris (Joy) and her experiences of self-realisation and exploitation based on ethnographic research and a writing workshop with 8 Nigerian sex workers. Trailer: https://vimeo.com/ondemand/travelen
Travel is also available in two formats: installation and film. In 2015 the installation was showed at the ‘Coding and Decoding Borders’ art exhibition in Brussels and at the Accés(s) – cultures électroniques festival in Pau. In 2015 the film version was premiered at la compagnie – lieu de creation in Marseille, Aix-Marseille University (MMSH) and the University of Geneva. In 2016 it was screened at the Lumières d’Afrique Film Festival (Besançon, France), Kingston University London, in Lyon (Association Cabiria) and in Toulouse (Espace Diversités Laïcité). In 2017 Travel was screened at the RAI (Royal Anthropological Institute) Film Festival in Bristol, at the University of Bristol, and at the ‘Displacing Sex for Sale’ COST International Conference in Copenhagen. In 2019 Travel was screened at the Brighton Fringe Festival in the context of a session on anthropological cinema.
I have recently (2020) completed two collaborative films in the context of the ERC-funded project I directed (SEXHUM), which adopts a creative methodological approach integrating ethnographic observation and semi-structured interviewing with collaborative ethnographic filmmaking (ethnofiction) through which groups of migrant sex workers expressed and represented their lives and realities. They were produced and edited in collaboration with associations representing communities of migrant sex workers, some of whose members also acted the roles and histories they wrote.
CAER (CAUGHT) is the result of my collaboration with the Transgrediendo Intercultural Collective, a grass root association defending the rights of trans Latina migrant women in Queens, New York City. The story and the roles in the film were written by members of the Transgrediendo Intercultural Collective and are played by non-professional actresses, including some of the original co-authors, who were also involved in the editing of the film. CAER was selected for the Outfest Fusion LGBTQ People of Color Film Festival 2021; the Sheffield DocFest 2021 (UK competition); the Vancouver Queer Film Festival 2021, the Newfest LGBTQ+ NYC Film Festival 2021; it won the Divergenti Trans Film Festival in Bologna in 2021. CAER was selected for the 2022 Translations Seattle Film Festival and for the 2022 Jean Rouch Film Festival in Paris.
On 17 December, International Day to End Violence Against Sex Workers 2021, the Colectivo Intercultural Transgrediendo and I were all awarded a Certificate of Recognition by NYC’s Mayor Bill De Blasio for making CAER, which was recognised as having ‘amplified the rich and diverse experiences of trans Latina women throughout the five boroughs and beyond’, for ‘strengthening our thriving Latin American and LGBTQ community’ and for ‘inspiring all New Yorkers in your efforts to create a brighter, fairer and more inclusive city’.
Between 2012 and 2013, I was a resident fellow for ten months at IMéRA the Institute for at the ‘Mediterranean Institute for Advanced Studies’ of Aix-Marseille University.
My book Mobile Orientations. An Intimate Autoethnography of Migration, Sex Work and Humanitarian Borders received the 2020 Distinguished Book Award from the Sociology of Sexualities section of the American Sociological Association (ASA).
I am an associate researcher at IRIS, the Institute for Interdisciplinary Research on Social Dynamics of the School for Advanced Studies in the Social Sciences in Paris (EHESS). http://iris.ehess.fr/index.php?1502).
I am an associate researcher at Mesopolhis; the Mediterranean Centre of Sociology, Political Science and History of Aix-Marseille University (https://www.lames.cnrs.fr/spip.php?article126=)
Selected and recent conferences:
February 2021, presentation of the findings of the SEXHUM project at the Centre for Criminology of the University of Essex, UK.
September 2020, launch of the SEXHUM final findings at three online events in Auckland, New York and Paris. Available online: https://sexhum.org/events/
November 2019, I organised the Laura Lee Sex Worker Human Rights Annual Lecture presenting the findings of the ERC-funded SEXHUM project together with the UK Sex Work Research Hub and the Irish SexWork Research Network at Kingston University London (28 November 2019).
May 2019, presentation of the preliminary findings of the SEXHUM project at the University of Amsterdam (Amsterdam Research Centre for Gender and Sexuality).
April 2019, launch of the book Mobile Orientations at Sciences Po (Centre for International Studies), Paris.
April 2019, launch of the book Mobile Orientations at Zolberg Institute on Migration and Mobility and at the Anthropology Department of the The New School, New York City.
April 2019, presentation of the preliminary findings of the SEXHUM project at the Sexuality and Borders Symposium held at New York University.
The findings of the Emborders project, showing that 98% of sex workers opposed the criminalisation of clients introduced by the French government in 2016 and that only minority of people working in the French sex industry are trafficked, were mentioned in several media items in France and informed the French public debate surrounding the law.
The ESRC ‘Migrants on the UK Sex Industry’ project completed a tradition of participative and ethnographic research engaging sex workers directly in identifying their needs and priorities. Its findings informed the parliamentary debates of the Policing and Crime Bill 2009. They were mentioned in several news items, including: three BBC programmes (Newsnight, BBC London News and London Politics Show); the Economist’s advertising campaign in Winter 2011; two articles in the Guardian; two articles in Metro; one article in the Evening Standard; the Hackney Gazette; the Islington Informer; the Herald Scotland (Glasgow) and the Telegraph; as well as in over 100 internet based newspapers and policymaking websites.
In 2014, I was interviewed by BBC and in 2013 by Danish national TV (DK2) in the context of the NI and Danish debates on the criminalisation of clients.
In 2015, I participated in a special edition of the Planete Terre programme on trafficking in the sex industry presented by Sylvaine Kahn on France Culture Radio.
These are some very positive reviews of my film CAER film, highlighting its collaborative methodology and ethos: