TEDxLancasterU 2017 Conference, 13th May 2017

18058143_1199190976860276_269147933801941369_n

I’m really excited to be giving a Tedx talk about my brothels in the community research at the TedxLancasterU Conference on 13th May – particularly as I have just found out that popcorn and pancakes are to be served!

You can find information about the speakers here.

My little speaker bio is below:

Emily studied for a BSc (Hons) in Geography at Lancaster University, and remained there to complete her PhD in Human Geography (awarded 2014). The PhD focused on the impacts of living in close proximity to brothels on residential communities in Blackpool.  She joined UCLan in 2016 as a Lecturer in Human Geography and a researcher for UCLan Policing.

Emily’s research centres on how sex, space and society interact, with a particular focus on sex work in recent studies.  She is also engaged in projects relating to female ex-offenders and young people at risk of involvement with serious and organised crime.

Sex work is considered to be a problematic feature of urban areas, largely generating fears around crime and disorder. However, robust and inclusive consultations with residential communities about the effects of sex work remain limited.

This talk will draw from conversations with local residents, authorities, and sex workers of Blackpool (UK) and will provide an insight into this under-researched area. Contrary to the assumption that crime and disorder are the only aspects that brothels bring to residential areas, brothels have several roles in Blackpool’s community. These include: economic contributions, heightening feelings of safety, and, quite simply, just being ‘ordinary neighbours’.

I believe these are live streamed (gulp!) and will also be available on YouTube after the event.  Hope to see some of you there!

COST Action ProsPol Conference, Displacing Sex For Sale – Copenhagen, 2017

Picture1

I am currently at the fantastic COST Action ProsPol Conference, Displacing Sex for Sale, in Copenhagen and have enjoyed an inspiring first day.  I’ll update this post later with my notes from the sessions I attended, but I just wanted to do a little plug for our (@Planographer) paper tomorrow, entitled “On-Street, Off-street and Online: The Dynamic Liminalities of Sex Work“. Here is the abstract:

Sex work has long been the subject of labelling and stigma with sex workers, predominantly women, being the subjects of moral authority. Relatedly, the physical and virtual spaces in which sex work is produced and consumed have been subject to ‘territorial stigmatization’ (Wacquant, Updated:23 March 2017 16 2007). That is, commercial sex spaces have been marginalised – physically, socially and economically – by framing them, and those that occupy them, as immoral, deviant, dirty, disorderly, and dangerous. Sex work spaces are thus constructed as major ‘blemishes’ (Wacquant, 2007), not only on the urban landscape but the very fabric of society. Simultaneously, however, sex work spaces constitute ‘counter-spaces’ (Lefebvre, 1991) where ‘sexual boundary crossers’ (Hausbeck Korgan et al, 2016)[1] can engage in transgressive behaviours and express and celebrate their minority sexual identity status. Sex work spaces are also liminal in character in that they are often caught between the grey space of legality and illegality; ‘a space between sex and work whilst also being neither/both’ (Smith, 2015)[2]; a space that can be simultaneously physical and virtual; a space where different personas and/or alter egos can be portrayed and performed; and, a space where fantasy meets reality. This exploratory, conceptual paper will consider the key liminal characteristics across three distinct spaces where sex work is produced and consumed: (i) the street; (ii) indoor spaces (e.g. the home, hotels and brothels); and, (iii) the virtual (e.g. online escorting; social media and camming). It will be argued that the moral posturing, stigma and regulations imposed upon sex workers gives rise to the exercise of ‘liminal stigmatisation’. Simultaneously, however, the very liminality of sex work spaces, especially virtual ones, allows sex workers to mobilise and challenge this liminal stigma from above.

The presentation is part of the panel session Sex Work in the Digital Age, chaired by Prof. Teela Sanders, in Building D, Room 3.114 (3rd floor) between 9.15 and 11am.  Hope to see some of you there!

UCLan Postgraduate Criminal Justice Seminar Series

crim

Calling all postgraduate students!

Beginning in the academic year 2016-2017, the Criminal Justice Partnership are starting a postgraduate criminal justice seminar series.  These events will provide a great opportunity for doctoral students to present their research in an informal setting to a varied audience (including School postgraduate students/colleagues, the wider University community and external guests) while also acting as a socialising and networking space.  The series is open to ALL students conducting research on, or of interest to, criminal justice, criminology and policing. The presentation formats and topics will vary and speakers are free to present at all stages of their research, covering any element of their research interests.  Suggestions for external speakers are always welcome and a timetable of events for the upcoming year will be produced.  Below are the details for event one:

Postgraduate Christmas Conference, Wednesday 7th December 1-4 p.m.

csats

Are you currently doing a PhD or Masters dissertation on topics within Criminal Justice, Criminology or Policing? Fancy an opportunity to present about your research, gain some valuable feedback, and network? Submit an abstract to the Postgraduate Christmas Conference!

Presentations will be 15 minutes long.  We will be joined by Prof. Stuart Kirby to do a closing chair discussion, and there will be opportunities to ask questions of your peers and share tales about the research process.

The event will be accompanied by mulled wine and appropriately-Christmassy cakes/nibbles, and we will head for a meal (optional) in the city after the event.  Students at ALL stages of their research are welcome to submit an abstract and the event is open to all.

Please submit an abstract (250 words maximum) to Emily Cooper (ecooper2@uclan.ac.uk) by Friday 11th November 2016

Sex in the City: Reactionism, Resistance and Revolt – AAG #Geosex16 sessions in San Francisco (March/April 2016) **POST 5/5 – SESSION V**

V – Spaces of Empowerment and Social Inclusion

Paul J. Maginn (@planographer) (University of Western Australia) and Alistair Sisson (@alistairsisson) University of Sydney): “‘Orgasmic Geographies’: The Socio-spatial Distribution and Cultural Significance of Sex Toys in Australia

Paul’s paper centred on adult retailing in Australia – he began by outlining how adult retailing in Australia has come a long way since the first sex shops (opening in the early 1970s), where mainly pornographic material was sold (Sullivan, 1997). He explained that the number of sex shops has proliferated and the range of shops have diversified with 3 broad types of physical stores now identifiable – ‘seedy and sleazy’; ‘corporate chain stores’; and ‘erotic boutiques’ – that cater to particular client bases (Maginn and Steinmetz, 2014). Paul’s research – conducted with Alistair Sisson (University of Sydney) – focuses on “historical sales data from two online retailers, one Australian and one international, and uses GIS to map the socio-spatial distribution of sex toys and other related adult products across Australia at different spatial scal”es. More specifically, their research examines the “gendered, political and socio-economic aspects of the sale of adult products” to ascertain just how socio-spatially and -culturally mainstream sex toys have become in 21st century Australia.

 

Paul then briefly outlined the conceptual framework for the research. He discussed how the emergence of feminist adult literature, sex toy businesses (see Prof. Lynn Comella’s work) and ‘stylised pleasure’ has “situated sex shops as sites of cultural production AND retail production; thus perpetuating changing cultural norms around adult retailing and pleasure”.  Paul discussed the paralleled changing aesthetics of adult retail stores, “promoting style” as opposed to just phallocentric aesthetics, and becoming more ‘vanilla’ (drawing on Prof. Clarissa Smith’s work).  Paul dubbed this a “depornification process”, removing the notion of seediness and sleaziness and promoting the “commodification of pleasure” – he outlined how sex shops have capitalised on wider cultural sexuality eg the 50 Shades of Grey phenomenon.  He commented on the ways in which the FSOG phenomenon has, regardless of the attitude towards the quality of the book itself, had a marked impact on the demand for the accompanying adult retail market.

Paul then went on to discuss the range in products available – ranging from basic, entry level to luxury goods, e.g. a gold vibrator selling for £10000 (which he dubbed as more collector’s items)!  He outlined the 3-pronged sex shop typology in more detail, and then discussed the Perth context.  Paul explained that there are not many small, boutique stores in Perth but these are beginning to emerge across Australia more broadly.

Some findings (**I was chairing this session so didn’t get many results down in detail**): in relation to the socio-spatial distribution of sales, Paul explained that they currently had 2 years’ worth of data but that this does not provide information on who the customers are.  He outlined that there were high levels of sales in Perth and Sydney (with plenty of sex shops in Sydney). NSW is the most populous state but had fairly small sales numbers as a whole.  He explained that therefore sales analysis should be studied at more of a regional scale, with the micro-geographies of sales being particularly interesting. Paul also explained that, so far, it is suggested that political voting makes no difference to sales.

Paul finished the talk by stating that sex toys have gone through a staged evolution: ‘from marital aid, to sex toy/pleasure, to a collector’s item’.  The changing nature of shop/website aesthetics and the dilution of phallic display ‘raises interesting questions about who-should-see-what in sex shop windows’.

 

Lesley Gabriel (@muckybooksblog) (Birmingham City University): “50 Shades of Suburbia: The BDSM Scene in Birmingham, UK”.

Lesley’s paper described the ongoing research for her PhD into the BDSM scene in Birmingham, UK.   Although in the early stages of her PhD, Lesley explained that it is likely her research will take the form of an ethno-history, with interviews conducted with participants from the Birmingham BDSM scene.  These participants, she stated, will range from those who first established the Birmingham Bizarre Bazar (BBB – a monthly fetish market and after party), right through to newer members of the community who may have been led there by the claim on the BBB’s website: “If you liked 50 Shades, you’ll love the BBB!”  The Birmingham scene revolves around the Birmingham Bizarre Bazar (or BBB) which attracts a wide range of attendees from across the UK and Europe.  She also stated that the project will also provide a “thorough discussion of how the internet has changed the scene by enabling better communication as well as education and kink-related commerce”.

Lesley outlined the justification for her PhD project in the presentation.  She began by stating that BDSM is a blended acronym and a colloquial term for kink, and providing some context on the study site.  Birmingham, she explained, is the “birthplace of the industrial revolution and a rock capital, with a large-yet-currently-undocumented BDSM scene”.  She said that while there is a concentration in the literature on global hubs for BDSM activity such as San Francisco or London, nothing has been published about the UK’s second city – despite the scene being a large and cohesive one.

Through an ethno-history approach inspired by Kuhn (2002), Lesley is interested in “what participants in the scene do, how they identify themselves and the words they use to describe what it is they do/are”.  She outlined how, regardless of what one thinks of the 50 Shades of Grey books, it is difficult to ignore their popularity and influence over the BDSM scene, including bringing issues of consent to the discussion.  Lesley outlined how recent research has shown that, despite some from the BDSM scene wanting to project it from people from the FSOG movement, one of the opinions is that ‘if you are going to come to the scene because of FSOG, then learn something about it’. Lesley finished by stating that coming to the AAG2016 had been “instrumental in learning the role of sex workers in the BDSM community” – and that she would like to include such voices in her research.

 

Susan Buckingham, Prof and Monica Degen, Dr (Brunel University London): “Transformational space and gendered and sexed identities” **I didn’t take any useful notes during this presentation – chairing commitments made these difficult to decipher!**

Abstract: The proposed paper examines the potential of space to be transformational for a group of vulnerable women for whom their identity is more than usually closely tied to their sexed and gendered bodies. Our discussion emerges from a research project which explored yoga as a research methodology (Buckingham and Degen, 2012), and research in progress on sex workers’ identity with different spaces. Through these projects, it is becoming clear that how the women felt, identified and behaved was powerfully shaped by the spaces they inhabited (Tuan 1977). From the domestic space of the women’s centre in East London in which the participants accessed facilities and services, through their local regenerated neighbourhood, and distant places to which they were introduced, we discuss how three particular places enabled these women, otherwise stigmatized as marginal through being ‘homeless’, ‘substance abusing’, and/or prostitutes in their habitual spaces, to produce an alternative re-formulation of their self-identities (Keith & Pile 1993; Knowles & Alexander 2005).  Employing an ethnographic approach, the paper considers how a high specification architect designed support centre, third sector spaces, and a coastal holiday location each offered such vulnerable women spaces in which they could expand the boundaries of their profoundly gendered and sexed identities. Finally, we consider what the broader implications of our findings are for theorizing a ‘politics of difference’ for vulnerable groups in contemporary neo-liberal cities (Young 1990).

 

 

Christina Bazzaroni (PhD Candidate – Florida International University): “Sex Positive Culture Creation: Kinky Salon and the Sex Culture Revolution

Christina’s paper discussed her PhD research on Kinky Salon, which she outlined is an “arty, sexy party” providing an alternative space for sexual exploration to typical sex clubs that are “often impersonal and intimidating”. Christina outlined that these events happen in 12 cities around the world, reproduced in the same way across space, and that “each party has a theme and dress code to foster community and fun”.  She stated that Kinky Salon positions itself as a global sex positive community (with a strong complementary online community) that aims to “facilitate cultural and political change by adopting strategies and ideologies of co-creation and cultural revolution”. The events, Jennifer argues, cultivate a sex-positive community organized largely around individuals that are “participation and activism oriented”, politically aware, ethical actors. Furthermore, she says, the KS community of participants and volunteers often develop lifestyles that “embrace various configurations of ethical non-monogamy”.  Its core values are: “playful, safe, inclusive, creative, community spirited, socially conscious, and sexually progressive”.

Some key questions in Christina’s PhD research include: What is it to be sex positive (e.g. the type(s) of freedom it relates to)? What is sex positive culture/community? What is the sex culture revolution? She contextualised these questions initially by discussing that the sex and sexualities field is moving away from centring on LGBT enclaves alone, and focusing on ordinary cities as well as global tourist centres (drawing on Phil Hubbard’s work).  She argued that the field is now wanting to ask more questions about “how alternative sex communities garner more positive sexually expressive spaces” – and alternative partnering strategies such as polyamory and ethical, consensual non monogamy – drawing from feminist geography literature.

Jennifer outlined that a central feature of KS is the idea of sex positivity – and serves to challengeconventional negative norms around sex, and shame around bodies”.  Jennifer outlined how the AIDS crisis of 1980s created fear around sex, and that “KS, as part of the new generation, has grown divorced from tragedies from past generations”.  She outlined the centrality of issues such as consent to the culture, and that the events have a clear charter outlining the norms/orders of the venues.  Jennifer explained that often the individuals involved are politically aware and have an action-based political agenda: “wanting individuals to enter the door, change their lives and re-enter society”. 

The paper concluded by asking questions regarding how these sort of events/venues could reach out to other people, and asked for suggestions from conference attendees.  Jennifer also outlined that there is still a way to go with mainstreaming BDSM sexual expression.

 

Final note:

Paul, Clarissa, Martin and I are exploring publication options for the papers from our sessions and so further details will hopefully be available soon.  (Particularly if you have stuck with me for all 5 posts), thanks very much for reading and I hope all of my post-conference ramblings made sense!

 

 

Sex in the City: Reactionism, Resistance and Revolt – AAG #Geosex16 sessions in San Francisco (March/April 2016) **POST 4/5 – SESSION IV**

IV – Navigating Risk and Violence

 

Joanne Bowring (@jojobo77) (Liverpool John Moores University): “An exploration of the experiences of those working in the UK adult film industry.

Jo’s paper centred on her PhD research into the experiences of those working in the UK adult film industry.  She began by outlining that, despite the debate around the supposed harms of pornography, for viewers, society and performers being very intense, little research has been conducted regarding the experiences of the UK adult film workforce. Jo outlined that Pornhub has around 1.68 million visits every hour, and that in 2007, there were 13,000 adult films made in the US alone – with the International Adult Film Database including over 100,000 performers.  The British Girls Adult Film database has over 2000 female performers registered.

Jo then discussed the UK context – it was outlined that while most production is legal, recent legislation (e.g. Audio-Visual Media Services Regulation, 2014) prevents certain acts from being produced.  Examples include female ejaculation and spanking if more than just titillation; legislation which Jo argued is sexist, due to the policing of female pleasure in such production.  Most porn research, Jo outlined, is also based on the “potential for harm – for viewers, women and society” and does not centre the performer voice. Jo ‘s research, she stated, is pro-performer voice, and comes from the position that it should not be censored on moral objections/nuclear family ideals.  She also outlined how porn is not a homogeneous lump of material; it is hugely varied in content and in production, ranging from sole traders to massive organisations.

Jo discussed some of the difficulties she has faced so far in the research process – including being “labelled pro-porn and part of the pimp lobby just by speaking to sex workers for the project”.  She also outlined that previous research has highlighted that when the general public think about the porn industry, the damaged goods hypothesis (Griffiths et al 2013) is a prominent theme – the assumption that everyone has been abused as a child, with some other features on HIV cases in the US.  As a result, she argued that research requires much more of a comprehensive focus on the risks and opportunities presented by the industry with a more open lens (rather than assuming victimhood, harm, and assumptions about characteristics/experiences of workers) She also outlined that it is timely to explore the implications of the audio-visual media regulations on performers, and to try and navigate ways to challenge stigma and include more of a diverse performer voice in debate and policy decisions.

Although in the early stages, Jo mentioned that the level of interest has been good and I look forward to seeing what her findings are.

 

Jill McCracken, PhD (University of South Florida St. Petersburg): “To Name is to Resist: Bridging Reactionism to Decrease Violence in the Sex Industry” **I didn’t take many notes during this presentation, as it was largely very interactive**

Abstract: “This presentation explores relationships between the discursive and material violence that occurs against individuals in the sex industry. The discourse surrounding sex work and trafficking in the sex industry–the terminology, images, descriptions, and definitions–are fraught with difficulty and complexity.  Because they center on topics about which many hold strong beliefs, the language, labeling and perspectives lend themselves easily to reactivity, which both creates and inhibits resistance. Rhetorical, semantic, and ideological warfare then ensues and often the underlying issues–violence in this case–are moved to the sidelines. My findings document 1) how violence occurs within categories and definitions when words and images are used to achieve specific goals, based on contradictory moral frameworks and values often labeled as conservative, progressive, sex positive, and radical, among others; 2) the bridges that exist between these polarized stances that can provide a foundation for shared goals and outcomes, and 3) how these articulations can contribute to decreasing the material violence that is used against so many individuals within the sex industry. Using rhetorical and ideological analysis of the themes that emerge from legal, media, and academic discourses about sex work and trafficking in the sex industry, I present the central ideas as well as the underlying values and ideologies that inform these themes and perspectives. Examining the language and belief systems that inform these arguments reveal overlapping values and connections that can be the foundation for building and achieving common goals”.

Jill showed the audience some videos about trafficking which we discussed as an audience.  Questions raised included: “what is the goal of such videos, what did we see, who gets to speak, and what are the main messages?”

Some offerings from the audience were: the key message from the imagery is to “put your clothes back on” (prostitution), “give us (those making the video) money/donate”, “jazzy infomercial style”, “having a goal of salvation”, “do the messages curb or create violence”? 

 

Jennifer McGibbon (@jennyMcG) (University of Georgia): “Anti-Trafficking and the Hyper-Criminalization of Sex Workers

Jennifer’s paper focused on the anti-trafficking movement and its ‘hyper-criminalisation’ of sex workers.  She began by outlining the issues with recent legislation, including (as examples) the ‘anyone who benefits from sex work-related income’ that features in many policies, resulting in spouses, roommates, consenting escorts and drivers etc to be implicated.  The ‘criminalisation of human contact’, as dubbed by Jennifer, means that in writing strip clubs are therefore illegal and this sort of problematic system results in the ‘burden of demonstrating coercion involved in the transactions being removed’.

Jennifer outlined how, in 2014, the Oakland nuisance eviction ordinance was put in place which required landlords to evict suspected prostitutes (and they can be fined by the city if they fail to evict).  This garnered media coverage and opposition from tenant’s rights/sex worker groups.  Similary, the 2013 formation of New York’s Human Trafficking Intervention Courts (HTIC’s) also contributed to the hyper-criminalisation of sex workers, with as the Red Umbrella describe as the ‘feminised version of stop and frisk” and Jennifer outlined that such strategies ‘disproportionately  target women of colour/trans/poor women as ‘prostitutes’ – “because they look like one” and leave them in legal limbo.’  Jennifer outlined that sex workers can also be rearrested for returning to the area they were arrested in and this therefore creates ‘de facto prostitution free zones’.

Jennifer argues that such anti-trafficking movements and their subsequent regulations act as tools of gentrification, strengthen the illegal sex trade and increase trafficking – while also giving policing power to citizens.  She outlined how sex worker populations are often already living in situations of precarity and the identification of ‘the trafficker’ in new legal situations where the trafficker doesn’t even need to be a 3rd party (consenting adult sex workers can be charged for trafficking themselves) is now very muddy – creating further uncertainty.  She argued that violence is not an inherent part of the sex industry but inherent to capitalism, whereby sex workers are forced to choose between a job that doesn’t provide a living wage, or a job that sells sex which they may not want to do – and that ‘we have to tackle capitalism more broadly to tackle the real issues’.  She also argued how important it is that society “re-imagines sex workers as complex, multi-faceted human beings, capable of consent and making logical decisions” – the anti-trafficking discourse, she states, makes it impossible for sex workers to be seen as able to say no or yes to sex, “which is very disabling”.  She argued that the moral panic that anti-trafficking law engenders needs to be addressed – and that “it is important for survival sex workers to be central to legislation which disproportionately impacts them” and to resist the hyper-criminalisation of the sex industry.

A final note from Jennifer’s abstract: “My work constitutes a meaningful intervention into the anti-trafficking narrative by questioning and re-evaluating the goals and methods of racialized, gendered “rescue” and the efforts by the anti-trafficking movement to eradicate the sex industry entirely. The objective of my research is to understand how the anti-trafficking movement has shaped this atmosphere of hyper-criminalization and what forms of resistance are most effective in fighting criminalization”.

Sex in the City: Reactionism, Resistance and Revolt – AAG #Geosex16 sessions in San Francisco (March/April 2016) **POST 3/5 – SESSION III**

 III – Otherness, Transgression & Normalisation

Emilia Ljungberg (@emljungberg) (Karlstad University): “Distinction, fluidity and discretion in the striving toward respectability for high class sex workers”

Emilia’s paper draws on her research about Ohlala – a locative media app (first launched in 2015 in Berlin) that aims to connect clients and sex workers based on proximity. She discussed that the Ohlala website presents sex work as “paid dating” while simultaneously emphasizing the monetary transaction.  Emilia argued “that class distinction, fluidity and discretion are used as representational strategies by sex workers and sex businesses that define themselves as upscale and that strive toward respectability”.  The app is presented as being similar to other trendy tech start-ups and the website relies heavily on the aesthetics of middle-class lifestyle media. Emilia’s paper explored how classed spaces and places (both virtual and physical) are used in the representational practices of what Bernstein calls ‘sex work for the middle-classes’ (2007)

How the app works: Only women can sell dates and only men can buy.  Men post a date request, suggesting a place and price.  Women can see the date requests and, if interested, the men can see their profiles and then chat.  Then they decide on a date.  Requests are only visible for up to 21 mins.

Emilia argued that the “use of such apps aims to create social acceptance by positioning app in hook-up culture and actual escort services”; thus “exploiting the grey zone and blurring several lines”.  Paid dating is a “slippery concept, presenting SW as remunerated non-work (and thus a way of making it invisible)”.  Paid dating is then both work (= providing a service, ideally on demand and instant) and non-work (dating = a leisure activity).  Ohlala, she argues, also refers to a service that is highly mobile and on demand; part of an urban lifestyle.  In dating, both parties are seen as doing the same thing.  “The blurring of roles implied in paid dating should be understood as a feature of the sharing economy, in which producers and service workers are represented as ordinary people rather than buyers/sellers”.

Emilia also drew attention to the fact that, interestingly, the owner of the app is herself very visible as a tech entrepreneur, presenting herself as a rebel, broken free from conformity from her job as an investment banker, often in arenas such as conferences, that aren’t open for more traditional sex businesses. The idea of fluidity, Emilia argues, is something the owner is constantly making use of to make the app respectable. The app states ‘this is not for escorts’ and that what she’s created is a service seen by mainstream society as respectable, “by taking work and sex out of sex work”.  This is the “reinforcement of a society that is both fascinated and repulsed by sex work”.  Instead of challenging stigma, Emilia stated, she makes a business out of reinforcing it.  She finished by saying that “the stigma attached to sex work should not be understood in terms of historically remaining, not just an unfortunate remnant of traditional morals – but it should be challenged”.

Erin Sanders-McDonagh (@erinsandersmcd) (Middlesex University): “Mapping transgression/gentrification: Lights of Soho”.

Erin initially outlined the aims of the recently formed interdisciplinary collective seeking to document and map marginal or transgressive urban spaces (the work of which this paper is based on). The project focuses on mapping London’s Soho, using multisensory approaches and with a particular interdisciplinary methodology that the collective has developed. The collective is hoping to understand how current neo-liberal market forces are changing Soho, and what impact this is having both on a Soho as a physical geographically-bound place, but also as a social and cultural space.

Erin began by outlining the socio-economic context of the study area. Soho is centrally located and has always been seen as a transgressive area (Walkowitz 2012).  Erin stated that the gentrification in Soho in recent years has been ‘one place, top-down gentrification’, whereas with the neighbouring Shoreditch this was an organic process.  This has been neither slow nor organic in Soho.  The majority of this, Erin explains, has been single-handedly influenced by one organisation (Soho Estates).  The police are quite happy to work with Soho Estates and, in 2013, there were raids on sex worker flats in Soho where sex workers were brought out into streets into underwear, arrested and taken away. They then had to go to court to reclaim their work spaces.  Porn shops have been particularly at risk from such tactics.  Erin outlined that opposition has ensued – for example groups such as Save Soho argue that ‘the changes are being made without proper consultation with residents/local businesses’.  Processes are, Erin argues, intensely neo-liberal and hyper-capitalist.  Businesses such as cafes have been taking over the spaces.  Rents are “hyped up in certain businesses (eg sex businesses) so that they can’t afford them in order to get rid of who they want”.  Those sex businesses that remain – e.g.  The Box, a burlesque venue – only cater for the very elite, niche of people.  Erin said that prices of such venues included around £1000 for a table with minimum requirement purchases.  Any such venues, she stated, are also stripped of any real transgression, making it vanilla”.  Erin labels this a ‘sexy Disneyland for people who want a little bit of titillation…but not too much’. 

Erin then moved on to present one of the sensory maps – of neon lights in Soho.  “As in other red light districts in other cities, neon lights are a distinctive aesthetic feature and emblematic of red light districts”. While some argue that neon lights are empty signifiers of projected fantasies and desires, the collective maintains that they have particular significance for Soho and reveal a critical aspect of gentrification processes.  Erin outlined how many of the older shops/venues (particularly sex shops) use neon, but newer venues (restaurants and bars) use the same neon ironically and hipster-like, creating a juxtaposition that is literally illuminated.  Hipster cafes, she argues, are happy that the sex workers are going as it makes the area cleaner, but are also equally happy to utilise the symbols of sex work.  Indeed, a new exhibit called Lights of Soho has revealed the contentiousness of lights in this space.  Erin finished by drawing attention to a couple of examples of such venues that have kept the ‘nod’ to the sex work history, but also warned of the differential exclusion that such gentrification processes creates; often excluding those who have historically occupied a huge part of the social fabric of the area.

Ingrid Olson (University of British Columbia): “Abduction in the Public Sphere: Sadomasochism, Surveillance, & Governmentality **Notes taken were limited in this paper due to a chairing duty**

Several years ago, a negotiated, consensual abduction scenario took place in downtown Toronto which formulated the focus of Ingrid’s paper. Ingrid outlined the differing reactions of the public, with some citizens having stopped, observed, and considered using their cellular phones. The scenario endured a lengthy pause for consultation and explanation with bystanders troubled by what they interpreted as potentially criminal behaviour. This response, Ingrid argued, could be understood as policing non­normative sexualities in public space (Watney 1987) and raised interesting questions about the movement of kink from the S and M dungeon to the public sphere. and what the limitations of sexual conduct are in the public sphere (Habermas 1992). As Ingrid outlined, in the 21st century there has been a “mainstreaming” (Weiss 2006; Wilkinson 2009) of kink. Yet, there remain limitations of public tolerance (Brown 2006; Fagelson 2002) for S/m as sexual “counter­conduct” (Foucault 2007). More from the abstract: “Sexuality has become a strategic dispositif: an apparatus (Foucault 1980, p. 218). In “The Confession of the Flesh,” Foucault describes an apparatus as a “certain manipulation of relations of forces, either developing them in a particular direction, blocking them, stabilising them, utilising them, etc.” (Foucault 1980, p. 196). Unlike a dedicated S/m space, an abduction scenario, as an apparatus, eludes surveillance and “remains invisible until it explodes” (Foucault 2003, p. 215), Public S/m can be a counterpublic (Halberstam 2005) that is “legible only to the intimately initiated” (Warner 2005, p. 183). Sadomasochism, as perversion, pushes sexual boundaries (Bauer 2014), and lies outside the demarcation of sexual citizenship (Cossman 2007; Evans 1993). This paper positions the “schemas of obedience” (Foucault 2007, p. 211) to the private/public sexual divide (Delany 1999) alongside the resistant sexualities of S/m practitioners in the public sphere.”

 

Moriah McSharry McGrath, PhD, MPH, MSUP (Pacific University): “From sites of vice to sites of redemption: Community-led redevelopment of strip club sites in Portland, Oregon

Moriah’s paper discussed community-led redevelopment of strip club sites in Portland, Oregon; the aims of which she aptly described as the transition from “sites of vice to sites of redemption”.  She drew on case studies within Portland whereby, through community organizing strategies and creative financing mechanisms, community groups have purchased some of the city’s many strip club sites with the intention of opening social service and recreation facilities.

Sexually oriented businesses (SOBs), she explained, have historically been viewed as locally unwanted land uses, sites of vice whose siting or operation often provokes conflict.  However, Moriah outlined that recent work on relationships between strip clubs and neighbors in the politically liberal context of Portland, Oregon (where there are over 50 strip clubs), found that in the absence of land use regulation, neighborhoods can develop a grudging tolerance or occasionally a symbiotic relationship with this type of SOB.  In other words, she argued that neighbourhoods have more complicated relationships with sex work businesses than common political discourses might suggest – something that really resonated with my own work on brothels in Blackpool, UK!  She also discussed how regulations that treat sex work businesses differently than non-sex work businesses cannot be placed here, including no zoning regulations.  Nonetheless, such development strategies, as she outlines, “are underpinned by involvement from the local government and civil society and therefore the approach can be comparable to more typical patterns of SOB management, such as the moral crusade, policy-induced gentrification, and spatial segregation”.  Moriah then drew from some case studies to highlight and critique the narratives and motivations of transformation and redemption, and processes of inclusion/exclusion.  Here are a couple with some notes:

Soobie’s strip club – now Shepherd’s Gate Church.  As an SOB, it was known for frequent visits from police.  Signs were put up once the building was bought to let the neighbours know that things were changing. Events included worships and pony rides for the kids.  Moriah argued this a great metaphor for the faith – “the same bricks and mortar on the outside but totally different on the inside”.

Black Cauldron – now a family shelter.  Was originally a goth, pagan, vegan venue. This was renovated into a family home –  a shelter for 130 people.  The County Commissioner, involved in social services, said that if the alternative is a strip club instead of a homeless shelter then this is a good thing. One quote: “turning a situation from vice to nice”. 

Sugar shack – part of a strip mall of SOBS, with lots of calls for police services.  The neighbourhood wanted to buy it and campaigned for it, asking for redevelopment funds, with the adverts for such requests often featuring signs held by kids asking to buy it.  The campaign was successful and on Martin Luther King day, people worked on remodelling the strip club.  Moriah outlined two discourses: that the neighbourhood should be better, this is yucky; and second, the development angle: we (the community) want amenities and other services.

From such examples, Moriah questioned who is behind/benefiting from this, outlining that stakeholders differentially benefit.  The Sugar Shack had the most different, multiple government organisations involved – the investment firm supported the loan, and property owners walked away with $2.5mill. It since emerged that an investigation into trafficking, drugs, and prostitution was ongoing and the federal government probably would have seized this if they didn’t sell to the community.  Moriah argued that in some ways, these examples flip the script in terms of opposition to strip club – not following the typical nimbyism. But, at the same time, the government is giving money to get rid of such establishments, and perpetuating the invisibility of people working/customers in the process.  So, she questioned, is this a voluntary redevelopment, or a dynamic equilibrium of sex premises from this possible organic redevelopment?

Sex in the City: Reactionism, Resistance and Revolt – AAG #Geosex16 sessions in San Francisco (March/April 2016) **POST 2/5 – SESSION II**

II – Sex Worker Voices: Encountering Consumption and Mobilities

Jennifer Heineman (University of Nevada, Las Vegas): “The Spectacle of Sex Trafficking: The Geopolitics of Sexualized, Victimized, and Fetishized Bodies”

Jennifer’s powerful paper discussed the ‘cultural fetishization with representation and authenticity at the heart of discourse surrounding sexual and erotic labor’.  Her work employs non-traditional research methods and draws from her own experiences as a sex working academic and activist, as well as textual analyses of sex worker zines and anti-prostitution blogs. Her presentation highlighted questions posed by sex workers, their allies, and anti-prostitution feminists alike, such as “who gets to speak for sex workers?; whose narrative becomes representative?”  Jennifer drew attention to the recent Amnesty International vote to support the decriminalisation of sex work and the subsequent opposition to it, including the celebrity endorsed letter.

She argued that “one-dimensional narratives” of sex trafficking victims are prominent, which “mainstream dehumanisation”.  Examples include identifying ‘those deserving of redemption and those undeserving of it’, and ‘victims and heroes’ depictions via visual text and imagery selections.  Jennifer drew attention to one advert for ‘young, girl-next-door average American girl’ for a story on sex trafficking.  She argued the “attractiveness of self-referent images removes the burden of thinking complexly and thinking about disrupting normative notions of good/bad women”.   She also argued that anti-prostitution feminists are part of a larger, neoliberal trend towards devaluing complex labor analyses in favor of moralistic, sensational, and fetishizing discourses—“discourses that create lucrative careers for all the State’s bosom buddies”. She argued against the notion that neoliberalism directly serves the interests of sex workers and allies.

Jennifer further outlined the social, cultural, economic, and historical meanings inscribed on the bodies of sex workers and queried why/how some bodies are able to access victim narratives while others are branded by the Scarlet Letter.  She drew from Baudrillard’s notion of “The Death of Sex” and Debord’s work on “The Spectacle” to argue that the spectacle of trafficking/victim narratives fulfills our insatiable cultural desire for what Baudrillard called “infinite refractions.”…so long as said narratives exist within the context of socially sanctioned and morally appropriate bodies.

Jennifer outlined that “sex working academics challenge such normatives and resists the spectacle of the trafficking victim”.  She also raised really interesting points about academia more broadly, querying the notion that “academia = the realm of the mind as if it is antithetical of the body”.  Some thought-provoking points/questions from Jennifer to finish: “intellectuals and sex go hand in hand but no-one talks about it; people are afraid of the bodily knowledge SW academics bring to academia;  is sex work really all that different from academia?”

 

Jason Scott, M.A., M.Sc. (University of Nevada – Las Vegas): “Transnational Migration of Male Sex Workers: Meeting the Thai Demand” **I didn’t take many notes from this paper due to computer updates!**

Jason’s paper discussed his research on the organisation of African and Afro-Caribbean male sex workers in the Thai adult entertainment industry, situated in Bangkok’s red light districts and surrounding tourist areas.  This drew on thirteen months of fieldwork from 2013 – 2015, when tourists, male/female/trans people/sex workers/business owners, government officials were interviewed.  He began by outlining that, despite the plethora of research examining female prostitution, little is known about female sex tourism (particularly the role foreign men play in sexually servicing female tourists and the financial logistics).

Preliminary findings: Jason drew attention to some of the geographies of working patterns from the different groups of male sex workers – e.g. although there are official adult entertainment zones, regulated by the Thai government, Afro-Caribbean (Jamaica/Dom Republic) sex workers tend to work primarily in Thai based bars/clubs outside the tourist zones.  There is a financial draw to the Thai industry – participants indicated that they can make more in Bangkok than Jamaica and they often have legal paperwork on an entertainer visa.  Best estimates are that there are less than 1000.  African sex workers are often from West Africa and many indicated they were smuggled into Thailand.  Most of them work primarily in the informal economy and sell drugs and/or provide protection to female sex workers. Jason’s preliminary findings indicate that economic necessity is a major influence for engaging as a migrant adult entertainer and increasing demands for their services are due to the bourgeoning Thai tourism industry.  He also acknowledged some of the limitations of his work: 1. That it is still ongoing 2. The small number of African informants 3. The difficulties of generalising the findings

 

Barb Brents, PhD (@barbbrents) (University of Nevada, Las Vegas) and Christina Parreira, MA (@SinCityGrrrl) (University of Nevada, Las Vegas): “Consuming sexscapes: the impact of location and legality on prostitution clients”. 

Barb and Christina’s paper centred on their research about the clients of sex workers.  They argued that while there are many assumptions about clients (e.g. they are deviant/risk-takers), there is little research that does not rely on samples of arrested “johns,” or samples that do not specify the type of consumption (e.g., legal brothel, street prostitution, escort service).  Their research disrupts this solely-deviant construction of clients, and examines consumers of sexual services through the lens of leisure consumers.  This, they argue, situates it in diverse geographies of consumer culture, and makes sex work less about deviance and the sexual exploitation of women, and more about consumerism and services.  The study also enables the diversity in prostitution and clients to be explored – e.g. no studies have compared client populations or clients of legal/illegal prostitution and so the research also examines if different markets draw different kinds of clients.  Furthermore, they argue, their study explores “geographies of resistance” by examining how the legality and locations of prostitution can impact the patterns and meanings of sexual consumption.

Methods: An online survey was conducted of the characteristics and attitudes of rural legal brothel clients in Nevada, and consumers of illegal sex work in the United States. Two groups of clients were in the study, 1) “hobbyist” groups and individual clients of Nevada’s legal brothels and 2) clients of illegal prostitution.  The survey asks clients’ demographic information, consumption patterns, general attitudes and interests, and history of behavior with both legal and illegal adult industry commerce’. As of October 21, 2015, the survey had 347 responses.  Barb and Christina outlined that there are 25 legal brothels in rural areas of Nevada with between 1-50 sex workers employed (and the majority of sex workers have to live in the brothel).

Some findings: it was difficult to note down all of the findings due to my slow typing and the 4 categories of clients: brothel only (85); illegal-only (284); clients of both (141); and non-clients (32).  However, some include:

  1. Non brothel clients more likely to be married, brothel clients more likely to be single.
  2. In terms of risk-taking, there was no differences between legal and non-legal.
  3. In relation to questions about sexual tolerance e.g. underage sex, and porn consumption, non-brothel-goers have lower scores on measure of sexual tolerance.
  4. With regards to questions about location – eg how many times have you paid for sex at least 50 miles away? –  brothel clients were more likely to have travelled.  When asked about purchasing sexual services in same town where you live: over 90% said never.

Question design for the survey was adopted from the National Opinion Research Center’s General Social Survey (NORC-GSS) to compare client and non-client attitudes toward women, risk-taking and thrill-seeking behavior, and neoliberal attitudes on individualism and self-expression.  Barb and Christina were thus able to compare respondents’ consumption across these dimensions and answer questions about the motivations for seeking sexual services, patterns of consumption as well as compare legal brothel and illegal sexual consumption.

 

Danielle Antoinette Hidalgo, PhD (@danielle_prof) (CSU Chico) and Cinnamon Maxxine (@CinnaMaxx): “Doing Sex Work Writing and Research: How to Not Take Up Space”

Danielle and Cinnamon’s paper offered some candid advice and reflections on doing sex work writing and research.  Beginning with a story about an experience Cinnamon had at a Desiree Alliance Conference, they reflected on the ways in which non-sex workers doing writing and research on sex work have historically ‘taken up’ both physical and intellectual spaces.  Cinnamon and Danielle outlined the issues of research and writing practices that ‘rarely serve the interests of sex workers themselves’; instead favouring the motivations of non-sex workers.  They also discussed how sex workers have been challenging problematic research and writing practices in virtual spaces (via twitter and podcasts, for example), publication spaces (Porn Studies and related publications), and physical spaces (such as the 2014 Feminist Porn Conference).     There were some good examples and suggestions for directly challenging practices that do not serve the ongoing goals of sex worker rights-based activism and writing. Here are the ones I could get down:

Questions to ask oneself when thinking about embarking on a sex work research project:

  • Why am I doing this research project?
  • What are your motivations/what experience do you have in/working with the industry?
  • If anything ‘icky’ comes up, question why it does, and think about if it stays around – if so, maybe consider not doing the research?
  • Consider the prostitute imaginary (Gira Grant) – how is it feeding into the imaginary?  To constantly ask this question is important

Advice

  • Ask sex workers what they think before you start a project – it could be harmful rather than helpful
  • Make space for voices of sex workers, encourage lots of listening and centre their voices; this includes reaching out to marginalised sex workers eg women of colour, sex workers that use drugs – don’t judge because of the location it is done.  There is a large spectrum of sex worker demographics.
  • Don’t expect sex workers to work for you or with you without compensation.  Encourage colleagues to pay sex workers and pay up front so that sex workers do not have to chase departments/individuals for money.  Think about all practicalities of including sex workers e.g. offer a ride to and from the conference etc.
  • Advocate for the sex worker, talk to them like a human being, and credit their involvement. Give sex workers the opportunity to look at how they have been used in the work
  • Read and share work by sex workers and always be thinking about power and inequality and how it plays out in the speaking space.  Use your platform to challenge narrow depictions of the sex industry and check with SWs about how you are using your platform.  Don’t ever assume you are using the platform productively – use it creatively, and offer a variety of spaces e.g. invite them to your place or have a Skype discussion.  A central point is making work more accessible too e.g. thinking about what is accessible language (a key question for academic generally too!)
  • Challenge the tired sex work memoir – Cinnamon and Danielle drew on Gira Grant’s work which acknowledges the uptake in 1st person writing of sex work and argues this contributes to a culture obsessed with hearing about sex worker confessionals.  They argued that the focus needs to be shifted on to the anti sex work discourse: those that create stigma.