Violence Against Prostitutes and a Re-evaluation of the Counterpublic Sphere

Price, Josgua M: “Violence Against Prostitutes and a Re-evaluation of the Counterpublic Sphere” Genders 34, 2001.

[1]   The speech of women who work in prostitution lacks credibility for many people. This is particularly true when they testify about the violence they face. It is often difficult for others to perceive violence against prostitutes as something real. Many women describe this contradiction in which they are caught when they speak as prostitutes. In what spaces can they speak and be understood when they describe the violence they face?

[2]   Women who work in prostitution employ a variety of rhetorical strategies to challenge those contradictions, or in some cases finesse them. I would like to examine whether the category of a ‘counterpublic sphere’ is a useful one to think about battered prostitutes’ speech on violence as political intervention. The term ‘counterpublic’ was coined by critics of Habermas’ category of an explicitly ‘bourgeois’ public sphere. Most theoreticians of the counterpublic see it as a useful communicative sphere for oppressed or excluded groups. (See Landes 1988 on the counterpublic in the salons until and through revolutionary France; Negt and Kluge [1993]{1972} thematize a proletariat counterpublic in which the proletariat’s experience is unsundered. Robbins [1993] sees the notion of a counterpublic as a useful substitute for the culture concept; Muñoz, [1998] draws a portrait of Pedro Zamora, the Latino AIDS activist, as cleverly exploiting the counterpublic potentialities of MTV; also see Fraser 1993; Felski 1989; For literature by prostitutes see for example Delacoste and Alexander 1987; Nagle 1999; Giobbe and Quan 1991; See Sanchez [1997; 1997a] for a good analysis of violence against prostitutes and a critical analysis of liberal jurisprudence). Exploring the usefulness of “counterpublic” will also give me a framework to take up the discursive strategies particular women employ when they are theorizing and trying to communicate their understandings of violence.

Read the full paper here. 

 

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