Buying and Selling Power: Anthropological Reflections on Prostitution in Spain

Buying and Selling Power: Anthropological Reflections on Prostitution in Spain

Buying and Selling Power: Anthropological Reflections on Prostitution in Spain

Buying and Selling Power: Anthropological Reflections on Prostitution in Spain


Buying and Selling Power examines the implications of the complex identities of clients and prostitutes to their lives beyond prostitution. Drawing on the author's extensive fieldwork in urban Spain as well as the work of queer theorists, Angie Hart explores the connections between these identities of clients and prostitutes and those of other sexual minorities such as lesbians, gay men, and bisexuals.

In exploring the power relationships among clients and prostitutes, Hart consistently emphasizes the role of male clients in heterosexual prostitution. Although she acknowledges the reality of gendered inequalities, she argues that client-prostitute relationships are more complex than many authors have previously suggested -- that, in this setting, clients are not invariably oppressive nor are prostitutes necessarily helpless victims.

Written in an autobiographical style, Buying and Selling Power reflects on the relationship between the anthropologist and that of his or her subject and informants. In particular, Hart explores the manner in which dominant identities (those of anthropologists and their informants) are constructed and the ways in which these dominant identities have marginalized other alternative identities.


At a job interview for a lectureship in an English provincial university, I was 'informally' chatting with the friendly, married Head of Department -- I'll call him Fred. We were discussing my anthropological study of a small prostitution barrio (neighbourhood) in Marito, Spain. Fred was the second middle-aged male Head of Department I had spoken to at a job interview who knew the town in which I had conducted fieldwork and who knew the specific area in which I worked. As soon as he said that he knew Marito because he had been on holiday there, and that he knew the barrio I was gripped by boredom and a sense of déja, déja vu.

Respectable Fred introduced the topic to me thus: 'When we were looking at your job application, Angie, my colleagues said, "Ha, ha, we know why you went to Marito, Fred, ha, ha."' I smiled, albeit weakly, because it was a job interview. `They said, "You know the area where Angie did research, don't you, Fred?"' Fred said to me (laughing), 'But of course I told them that I didn't know it in that way.'

The last time I had had this kind of conversation, at the previous interview, when the Head of Department had said that he did not know my fieldsite in that way, I had said 'You never know', implying that he might well have been a sex worker's client. This time I kept my mouth shut and simply smiled at Fred, trying to remember that this was a job interview. Inwardly I was seething. It seemed to me that yet again I was not being treated like a serious candidate.

This kind of predictable insinuation about heterosexual prostitution was not restricted to job interviews. It was a thoroughly unoriginal party piece, together with the line, 'I suppose you worked as a sex worker then', nudge, nudge, wink, wink, say quite a lot more.

It is difficult to convey the sense of frustration I feel at these kinds of conversations. in the case of Fred, I was not bothered about whether or . . .

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