Tainted love: From dirty work to abject labour in Soho’s sex shops

Tyler, Melissa (2011): Tainted love: From dirty work to abject labour in Soho’s sex shops, in: Human Relations 64(11); pp. 1477-1500. 

This article is based on ethnographic research carried out in sex shops – retail premises selling sex toys, clothing and accessories, as well as sexually explicit books and films – located in London’s Soho. Drawing on the concept of ‘dirty work’, it explores not only the ways in which the various taints associated with dirty work – physical, social and moral – are lived and experienced, but also the allure of this particular type of work for those who perform it, and particularly of Soho as a work place. In doing so, the article extends the study of dirty work by drawing attention to two related themes that emerged from the research – first, the performance of what might be termed ‘abject labour’; that is, work that invokes a simultaneous attraction and repulsion for those who undertake it, and second, the significance of location and place in understanding the lived experience of work and the meanings with which particular types of work are imbued. The discussion concludes by arguing that teasing out the inter-relationship between these two themes – of simultaneity (of repulsion and desire) and setting – enables us to better understand interconnections between the meanings attached to particular types of work, and the specific locations in which they take place.

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