Archive

Author Archives: Wendy Lyon

Nicola J. Smith, “The international political economy of commercial sex” Review of International Political Economy (2011) 18:4, 530-549

The expansion of the global sex industry in recent years has emerged as an important national and international policy concern and has also become the subject of considerable academic interest. Spanning a variety of social science disciplines such as sociology, cultural studies, economics, anthropology and geography, there is now a rich and diverse literature on the political economy of prostitution, pornography and sex trafficking. This scholarship has not only contributed a wealth of empirical data on the scope and nature of the global sex trade but has also generated profound theoretical insights into the structure of power relations on an international scale. As authors such as Andreas, Bhattacharyya and Ryner have argued, the illicit and illegal economy is intimately related to, not separable from, the functioning of the ‘formal’ global economy and yet unprotected workers remain both politically marginalized and economically vulnerable. For Federici, the sex industry – one of the key non-legal forms of revenue aside from the drugs and arms trades – is a ‘paradigmatic case’ for understanding both how the international political economy impacts upon unprotected workers and how their status and interests are represented in contemporary political debates.

It is perhaps surprising, then, that within the field of International Political Economy little attention has been devoted to commercial sex – as a number of feminist scholars have noted. In part, this reflects a continued preoccupation in mainstream IPE with the ‘upper circuits’ of capital relations (trade, financial markets, capital flows) rather than the ‘lower circuits’ (domestic labour, janitorial/custodial work, tourism and sex work). More fundamentally, feminist scholars have pointed to a tendency to discursively position certain types of work on the ‘outside’ rather than the ‘inside’ of globalisation and capitalism – and hence beyond the ‘proper’ analysis of IPE. In particular, as Gillian Youngs notes, mainstream IPE has tended to be underpinned by a number of binaries and oppositions such as state/market, domestic/international, institutional/individual and public/private. Crucially, this has enabled certain forms of labour to, in effect, be written out of the analysis of IPE – including commercial sex, which has been marginalized due to its association with the ‘private’ sphere of sexuality rather than the ‘public’ sphere of work. Feminist scholars have thus called for IPE to focus more on the ‘reproductive economy’ (i.e. the feminised and private realm of emotional, leisure, caring and sexual labour) as opposed to the ‘productive economy’ (i.e. those forms of work associated with primary, secondary and tertiary production). Within this context, the sex industry has emerged as an important case study in a feminist project not only to render women’s lives more visible in IPE but also to re-map the conceptual and empirical terrain of IPE itself.

In this essay I offer a review of recent literature on commercial sex, focusing my discussion on four key books that each place commercial sex centre-stage within the broader analysis of global power relations. While not all situate themselves within (or, indeed, engage explicitly with) IPE as a discipline, each is nevertheless directly concerned with the extent to and ways in which the sex industry reflects and exacerbates the structural hierarchies of global capitalism. However, as I shall outline, the four books nevertheless come from rather different theoretical and normative starting-points and thus offer a variety of competing interpretations of the meanings(s) and practice(s) of commercial sex within a global context. In particular, there is significant debate as to whether the global sexual economy can ever represent a site of resistance to power relations or whether, alternatively, it is where global inequalities are felt most acutely.

Full text of author’s original manuscript available here.

Kimberly Kay Hoang, “Competing Technologies of Embodiment: Pan-Asian Modernity and Third World Dependency in Vietnam’s Contemporary Sex Industry”. Gender & Society, Vol 28, Issue 4, pp. 513-536 (2014).

This article illustrates how the circulation of capital and culture in Asia produces divergent embodied gendered ideals of national belonging through the case of Vietnam’s global sex industry. Introducing the concept of competing technologies of embodiment, I show how sex workers’ surgical and cosmetic bodily projects represent different perceptions of an emerging nation’s divergent trajectories in the global economy. In a high-end niche market that caters to local elite Vietnamese businessmen, sex workers project a new pan-Asian modernity highlighting emergent Asian ideals of beauty in a project of progress that signals the rise of Asia. Women who cater to Western men, in contrast, embody Third World dependency, portraying Vietnam as a poverty-stricken country in need of Western charity. By comparing multiple markets, I illustrate how individual agents in the developing world actively reimagine their nation’s place in the global economy through their embodied practices.

Full article available here.

Susanne Hofmann, “Corporeal Entrepreneurialism and Neoliberal Agency in the Sex Trade at the US-Mexican Border”. WSQ: Women’s Studies Quarterly 38: 3 & 4 (Fall/Winter 2010)

In this essay I will discuss corporeal entrepreneurialism in the context of commercial sex and neoliberal agency at the United States–Mexico border. I want to situate the sex trade in a larger neoliberal context of economic need, mobility, and commercialization. The essay addresses how bodily entrepreneurialism can function as a gateway to upward social mobility and how erotic capital can level existing social and economic inequalities and thus act as a catalyst to exit marginalized communities. I am drawing on Wacquant’s (1995) work on corporeal entrepreneurs and also on the notion of bodily capital that he has developed therein. Using bodily capital in the context of sex work, it makes sense to talk more specifically about erotic capital, which is the primary currency in the sex trade. Thus, I will integrate Isaiah Green’s (2008) definition of erotic capital and elaborate how women make use of their bodies to enhance their erotic capital and explain what their strategies and perceptions are. Inspired by Alexander Edmonds’ (2007) work on beauty and race in Brazil, I will elaborate how corporeal entrepreneurs strategically use their bodily and erotic capital to counteract their socioeconomic marginalization and challenge traditional hierarchies. As will become clear, corporeal entrepreneurialism ties together women’s agency, market demand, and monetary value, and, to succeed, this endeavor requires enormous levels of discipline, emotional resilience, management skills, stamina, and purposefulness.

Full text available here.

Body issues: The political economy of male sex work. Nicola J Smith. Sexualities Vol 15, Issue 5-6, pp. 586 – 603. First published date: September-24-2012

The analysis of global sexual economies has emerged as an important part of a wider feminist project to re-imagine the boundaries of what constitutes the ‘inside’ and ‘outside’ of globalisation and capitalism. Emphasising the importance of such an agenda, the article argues that continued understandings of commercial sex as ‘women’s work’ place male and transgender bodies on the outside rather than the inside of the analysis of global sexual economies. Highlighting the need to address this gap in contemporary theorising and empirical analysis, the article then offers an illustration of research into male sex work through discussion of how male escorts in San Francisco negotiate the complex meanings and practices surrounding gender, sexuality and political economy.

Full text of author’s original manuscript available here.

Skilbrei, May-Len, and Marianne Tveit. “Facing Return.” Perception of Repatrition among Nigerian Woman in Prostitution in Norway. Fafo rapport 1 (2007): 2007.

This report deals with the issue of repatriation of Nigerian women in prostitution in Norway, and aims at creating knowledge about what influences whether they want to go back to Nigeria or not. Some of the women have migrated and entered prostitution in a way that constitute trafficking, and all the women has suffered from some form of exploitation in their way from Nigeria to Norway. Norwegian authorities have certain obligations towards women that are identified victims of trafficking, and repatriation to the home country has to take place in a safe and dignified way. The report Facing return: Perception of repatriation among Nigerian women in prostitution in Norway is based on a qualitative study among Nigerian women in prostitution in Norway, and it describes and explores Nigerian women’s views on the future and the possibility of returning to Nigeria.

As there are substantial individual variations in regard to the women’s experiences and attitudes, the needs of the Nigerian women in prostitution in Norway in a return process will vary accordingly. The report states that it is important that repatriation and rehabilitation efforts are sensitive towards these variations in needs in order to hinder stigmatisation or prosecution, and, not the least to increase the women’s chances to make a better life for themselves upon return.

Full text available here.

Paul Ryan (2016): #Follow: exploring the role of social media in theonline construction of male sex worker lives in Dublin, Ireland, Gender, Place & Culture, DOI:10.1080/0966369X.2016.1249350

This article draws from qualitative interviews with 18 South American male sex workers in Dublin, exploring how their use of the gym and new social media has created alternative spaces for the conduct of commercial sex. The interviews reveal how sex workers alternatively use escort specific sites in conjunction with mainstream dating apps like Grindr, offering greater flexibility and control over how they are self-defined within the sex industry. These male sex workers become known for their presence in gyms and clubs within the small gay community offering potential clients a real-time embodied interaction. Social media, like Instagram, offered the men in this study a further platform to share part of a choreographed online world with thousands of followers presenting new economic opportunities. The men trade access to their bodies and to their taste in designer commodities and lifestyle to interact with followers who can financially contribute to dictate the format of the photos available for private or public consumption.

Full text available here.

Maginn, Paul and Ellison, Graham, ‘Ulster Says No’: Regulating the Consumption of Commercial Sex Spaces and Services in Northern Ireland (September 13, 2016). Urban Studies, Forthcoming.

Commercial forms of sex such as prostitution/sex work, strip clubs and even sex shops have been the subject of much political debate and policy regulation over the last decade or so in the UK and Ireland. These myriad forms of commercial sex and land usage have managed to survive and even thrive in the face of public outcry and regulation. Despite being part of the UK we suggest that Northern Ireland has steered its own regulatory course, whereby the consumption of commercial sexual spaces and services have been the subject of intense moral and legal oversight in ways that are not apparent in other UK regions. Nevertheless, in spite of this we also argue that the context of Northern Ireland may provide some lessons for the ways that religious values and moral reasoning can influence debates on commercial sex elsewhere.

Full text available here.