Category Archives: Sex Work

“Revolting Prostitutes” Book Launch

Book coverOn the 8th of November, CERIC hosted a panel discussion as a book launch event for the highly anticipated book Revolting Prostitutes: The Fight for Sex Workers’ Rights by Juno Mac and Molly Smith. Mac and Smith are sex worker rights activists with SWARM and SCOT-PEP, and their book is a deeply researched yet highly accessible analysis of current sex work debates. Juno Mac is also known for her TED talk ‘The laws that sex workers really want’.

Revolting Prostitutes discusses current debates on sex work, national and international sex worker self-organisation, and how sex worker rights fit within an intersectional critique of inequality in society. Challenging both sides of the sex work debates in the UK (those who see sex work as a vocation and those who believe sex work is inherently violence against women), Mac and Smith argue that sex work is inherently violent not because of the sex involved, but because it is work.

CERIC is one of the leading research institutes in the UK when it comes to expertise on sex work as a topic of labour and work. The organiser and panel chair Lilith Brouwers is a CERIC postgraduate researcher into employment relations in sex work in England. Joining Juno Mac and Molly Smith on the panel was Nadine Gloss, CERIC postgraduate researcher into sex worker self-organisation and representation in Germany.

After an introduction of all panel members, Mac and Smith explained about the importance of seeing sex work as an issue of labour, and the influence this has had on their book. With an analysis of sex work as a form of labour, academics and activists can use a rights framework for their work, strengthening the demands sex worker organisations make of institutions like governments, police, NGOs and employers.

Nadine Gloss discussed the main obstacles she found in researching sex worker organisation: gaining access to and trust from sex workers and sex worker-led organisations. With any labour ethnographic research comes the challenge of finding participants willing to be observed within their organisation, but understandably sex workers are more wary than most of researchers misrepresenting their work.

Another point of discussion was the differences panel members had noticed between sex worker organising in the UK and in Germany. While sex worker led organisations in Germany aim to present sex work as a free choice – in response to discourses which present sex workers as victims – UK sex worker rights organisations identify closer to working class movements which do not present work as inherently positive. This identification specifically as workers also builds solidarity between other social movements such as the migrant rights, prison abolitionist, and LGBT+ rights movements.

After questions from attendants of the event, Mac and Smith were kind enough to sign copies of their book during the wine reception following the panel.

Book Launch

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CERIC Doctoral Conference 2018

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Emma Partlow

By Emma Partlow, Postgraduate Researcher, Department of Social Policy, Sociology and Criminology (University of Birmingham)

I was honoured to have been invited to present my research at the Centre for Employment Relations Innovation and Change (CERIC) Doctoral Conference on the 20th June at Leeds University Business School. As a doctoral student from the University of Birmingham, it was a pleasure to network within a room full of people who articulated original and innovative research in such an engaging manner.

The conference encompassed a wide-range of disciplines, including: Social Policy, Languages and Cultural Studies, Psychology, Performance and Cultural Industries and of course, Business and Management in its many forms. It was exciting to see how a diverse range of talks could marry together under the banner of Inequalities in the Workplace. These talks encompassed everything from: sexual harassment in the workplace, strategic human resource management, apprenticeships, inequalities in skills developments during recessions, collective labour conflicts in China, case study on the Nigerian Electricity Distribution Sector, sex work, organisational stress management, pay gaps and inequality, labour insecurity, marginalisation of theatre lighting designers, power in modern management, and the employment experiences of people with Multiple Sclerosis. Not forgetting the key note talk from Professor Chris Forde who kicked off the day so eloquently with the ‘Inequalities of Work in the 21st Century – The Rise of the Gig Economy’.

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Participants of the Doctoral Conference

I am fortunate to have had the opportunity to present my research project looking at the impact of equalities legislation on disabled people in the workplace, which critically analyses the concept of ‘reasonable adjustments’ in the policy context of the Government’s White Paper Improving Lives. The audience were receptive to my theoretical framing, which sees me draw upon the concept of bio-power and subtle coercion in the form of Libertarian Paternalism.

Doctoral students eloquently presented their work and the day flew by with methodological discussions, engaging debate and suggestions within an entirely supportive and ‘safe’ space. It has to be said that this was one of the most supportive academic spaces I have had the pleasure to participate in. The development of spaces where doctoral students can engage in supportive discussion about their work is important and something we must actively continue to arrange.  I am sure I am not alone when I say that questions, comments and suggestions received in this manner are invaluable and can go a long way in supporting a thought-process or the development of ideas.

I would like to thank CERIC and Leeds University Business School for their generosity and hospitality. Not only did they host this doctoral conference and provided refreshments and lunch but prizes were provided for the prize winners and I am honoured to have been chosen as one of these prize winners. The prizes were put forward to help with the cost of attending conferences of choice; I think this is an excellent incentive to encourage people to share their work, regardless of the stage they are at within their doctoral journey.

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From left to right: joint 1st prize winner for best paper presentation Maisie Roberts (CERIC), Dr Jo Ingold, joint 1st prize winner  Marina Boulos (CERIC), joint winner for the best poster presentation Sophie Morrell (Bradford) and 2nd prize winner for best paper presentation Emma Partlow (Birmingham)

The success of this doctoral conference has inspired me to adopt the theme of ‘Inequalities and Work’ to host a conference at the University of Birmingham so please do watch this space! It would be my pleasure to welcome some familiar and friendly faces to Birmingham and to hear how your work has developed since this event.

Corner Mothers: Argentine sex workers using street art

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Dr Kate Hardy, CERIC.

On a street corner a woman is pictured with a leg leaning against the wall, her body adorned in the classic signifiers of sex work – a short dress and impossibly high heels. With one arm raised above her head, the other stretches out laconically to the side. At first sight this is just another stereotypical image of street prostitution, highly sexualized images which rarely reflect its reality. On second sight, the hand that stretches out, stretches around the corner, where it meets the small hand of a young girl, in school uniform, accompanied by a younger boy, both with backpacks slung over their shoulders. Suddenly the image transforms to see that this is, in fact, a mother walking her children to school.

This is one image from the new campaign ‘Mamas de la Esquina’ (Corner Mothers) being led by AMMAR, the sex workers’ union of Argentina. The street art is being used to challenge images of sex workers and to emphasise the fact that 86% of sex workers are Mothers. It is part of a broader campaign for decriminalization in the country, in which AMMAR have already won the repeal of laws in two provinces. The argument goes that as women sell sex in order to support their families, just like any other worker, they therefore deserve protection and from the exploitation and police violence they face every day.

As informal workers, positioned outside the norms and institutions of traditional labour relations, AMMAR and other sex workers’ organisations often have to use innovative means to campaign for better working conditions in their industry. Where there are no employers and the workplace is the public space of the street, improving working conditions frequently relates to demanding protections from the state, namely from displacement and police brutality. Sex workers are routinely bribed by members of the police force and one branch secretary, Sandra Cabrera, was assassinated by a bullet to the neck, after publicly denouncing the role of the police in trafficking and indoor prostitution.

Despite such intense pressure from the police to stop, AMMAR have continued to organize since their inception in 1995. When they first came together, with little political knowledge, they simply asked not to be re-arrested within 24 hours of being released from a cell. Since then, they have established a primary school, a health clinic, won the repeal of laws repressing their work in two provinces and they now have a voice in government bodies, particularly in the arena of HIV prevention. Elena Reynaga, President of AMMAR, who was illiterate when she founded the organization, is now an influential member of the UN Rapporteur on HIV/AIDS.

One challenge that remains is changing public perceptions of the reasons that the sex industry exists and why women (as well as men and transgender people) choose to work in it. By emphasizing the socially reproductive work it supports, AMMAR hope that it will be recognized that in a context in which all but the independently wealthy must sell their labour for money, the reasons for participation in the sex industry are simply the same as that sold anywhere else. Challenging this stigma and educating people about the roots of labour in the sex industry is an important battle, not only to transform the material conditions of sex workers lives, but also for creating conditions in which women are more free to choose whether or not they enter the sex – or another – industry.

Kate Hardy wrote her doctoral thesis ‘Proletarian of the night: sex worker organizing in Argentina’ on AMMAR and has published work on the organization in a number of books and journals