Tag Archives: Ethnography

Seshu, M. S. and Pai, A. (2014), Sex Work Undresses Patriarchy with Every Trick!. IDS Bulletin, 45: 46–52. doi: 10.1111/1759-5436.12067

Full article available here. 


Some feminists argue that sex work reduces the female body to an object of sexual pleasure to be exploited in the marketplace by any male – an argument consistent with patriarchal notions of protection, reverence and control, the construction of women as a devi[goddess], the dasi [slave] or the veshya [sex worker]. This article addresses our work with collectivising rural women not in sex work (Vidrohi Mahila Manch [Platform for Rebellious Women] (VMM) Sangli) and rural women in sex work (Veshya Anyay Mukti Parishad (VAMP)) from South Maharashtra and North Karnataka, India. It examines the apparent control adult women in sex work have over their own bodies and lives. Although it is true that unless acting collectively, they are less successful in confronting organised criminal gangs and the brutal side of law enforcers, most of them boldly confront sexual relations with individual male clients and men from their own community.

Kontula, Anna (2008): The Sex Worker and Her Pleasure, in: Current Sociology July 2008 vol. 56 no. 4, pp. 605-620.


The stereotypical view of prostitution is based on the idea that sex work destroys the woman’s capability for sexual pleasure and alienates her from her sexuality. The author argues that the idea of the destructive capacity of sex work is not universally obvious. Sex workers interviewed seem to derive sexual pleasure in both commercial and private relationships. Professional sex work can be perceived as a distancing from the prostitute’s own enjoyment but it can also be a channel to a more emancipated and pleasurable sex life.

Venkatesh, Sudhir (2013): Underground Markets as Fields in Transition: Sex Work in New York City, Sociological Forum, Volume 28, Issue 4, pages 682–699, December 2013


Most ethnographers visualize their fieldwork study vis-à-vis their long-term commitment to a bounded sociospatial context—an “ecology.” In this manner, the majority of ethnographic studies are presented as studies not only of practices but also of recognizable physical ecologies that breathe life into the practices—for example, homes, ghettos, firms, schools, and so on. In the pages that follow, I consider the ways in which the status of place has shifted in urban sex work. The shifting commerce of sexual services in New York enables me to open up a set of methodological issues about the role of space in ethnographic work. One in particular is at the core of this paper: namely, because so many ethnographic labors begin with the selection of a field site, what conceptual issues arise that fieldworkers must pay attention to vis-à-vis that decision? For example, the field site may change, the field site may itself be shaped by wider societal forces, and it may be simply dissolve over time. How does any of this impact a technique that is premised on the dependability of “sitting” so that others may be dependably followed? I draw on the notion of “strategic action fields” to present an alternative analytic framework, one more useful for the challenges ethnographers face.

Christine B.N. Chin (2013): Cosmopolitan Sex Workers: Women and Migration in a Global City, Oxford University Press.

This book introduces an innovative ‘3C’ framework of city, creativity, and cosmopolitanism to analyze why and how the forces of neoliberal economic restructuring processes, and people’s responses to them, encourage women’s migration for sex work from global city to global city. Based on original fieldwork in Kuala Lumpur (KL), the study begins by examining KL’s transformation into a global city. Despite the state’s creatively repressive responses to ‘illegal foreign prostitutes’, women from within and beyond the region find ways to enter for sex work. They travel on migratory pathways created from inter-global city collaboration and competition. Women’s decisions to migrate for sex work are based on and shaped by socioeconomic strategies crafted in the larger context of intersecting forces from the personal and household to the global levels. They migrate independently, with assistance from friends or from syndicates. This book offers an unprecedented examination of one KL syndicate specializing in non-trafficked migrant women. ‘Syndicate X’ arranges migrant women’s transportation, housing, security and sex work in exchange for monthly board and lodging fees and ‘taxes’ on their incomes. Analysis of migrant women’s and syndicate personnel’s encounters with difference in the global city at once evince emerging cosmopolitan subjectivities and affirm colonial-like ascriptions and ensuing worldviews and treatments of the Other. In the three dimensions of city, creativity, and cosmopolitanism, we find the common denominator of classed, gendered, and racialised-ethnicised forces that shape, and are shaped by relationships between state policies, public discourse, migrant women and syndicate personnel.

Prabha Kotiswaran (2008): Born unto Brothels—Toward a Legal Ethnography of Sex Work in an Indian Red-Light Are, Law and Social Inquiry 33, pp. 579–629.


The global sex panic around sex work and trafficking has fostered prostitution law reform worldwide. While the normative status of sex work remains deeply contested, abolitionists and sex work advocates alike display an unwavering faith in the power of criminal law; for abolitionists, strictly enforced criminal laws can eliminate sex markets, whereas for sex work advocates, decriminalization can empower sex workers. I problematize both narratives by delineating the political economy and legal ethnography of Sonagachi, one of India’s largest red-light areas. I show how within Sonagachi there exist highly internally differentiated groups of stakeholders, including sex workers, who, variously endowed by a plural rule network—consisting of formal legal rules, informal social norms, and market structures—routinely enter into bargains in the shadow of the criminal law whose outcomes cannot be determined a priori. I highlight the complex relationship between criminal law and sex markets by analyzing the distributional effects of criminalizing customers on Sonagachi’s sex industry.

Sex Work, Office Work: Women Working Behind the Scenes in the US Adult Film Industry

Author: Chauntelle Anne Tibbals
Gender, Work & Organization. Volume 20, Issue 1, pages 20–35, January 2013


Women currently working behind the scenes in the adult film industry both inform considerations of the contemporary experiences of sex work in the USA and shed some light on differential experiences of gendered workplace organizations. Based on ethnographic observations and informal interviews conducted at a typical adult film production company and on examining the industry’s historical development, I have found that a diverse range of occupations and occupational opportunities are available for women in the adult film industry and women workers in the US adult film industry experience their gendered workplace in unique ways. I suggest that this is due in part to the adult film industry’s wider social network, which has itself been shaped by the historical development of the adult film industry and the stigma of sex work.

Read the full article here.