Human smuggling is a global phenomenon which has been difficult to research. Even though there is a large and growing literature on human smuggling, it lacks a systematic review of the major theoretical and conceptual approaches. Besides the lack of conceptual cohesion, there is fundamental lack of hard evidence to substantiate most aspects of the smuggling process because of methodological challenges. This ‘double disadvantage’ is an important explanation for theoretical as well as conceptual discrepancies in existing smuggling studies. In order to clarify and understand the diversity of theoretical approaches within the field of smuggling this article provides an overview of various readings of the literature. We identify a need to better understand how our knowledge about smuggling is constructed in this messy field. Furthermore, we question why we are producing particular types of knowledge and argue for more critical work in the field of human smuggling.