Academic journal article The Canadian Review of Sociology and Anthropology

Critical Issues and New Directions in Sex Work research/Enjeux Cruciaux et Nouvelles Orientations Dans la Recherche Sur le Travail Du Sexe *

Academic journal article The Canadian Review of Sociology and Anthropology

Critical Issues and New Directions in Sex Work research/Enjeux Cruciaux et Nouvelles Orientations Dans la Recherche Sur le Travail Du Sexe *

Article excerpt

SEX WORK RESEARCH IS SURPRISINGLY BROAD in its implications. When properly conceived it can be understood as directly relevant to issues of work and labour; livelihood and the life course; gender; social rights and justice; health and well-being; and stigma, social exclusion and marginalization. Too often, however, it has suffered from moralistic perspectives and been relegated to the realms of deviance, crime, contagion and exploitation.

This issue of The Canadian Review of Sociology and Anthropology is an attempt to overcome such limitations by shedding light on a number of underresearched areas. The included papers go beyond the standard moral and criminal views of "prostitution" that have been topics of Canadian media and lay fascination for decades. Combined, the contributions present recent case studies on the limits of the debate between abolitionists and people working in the sex industry (PWSI), how the social context impacts their situation and that of their clients, constructions of stigma, and the organization of the sex industry in diverse sectors and various regions of the country: the Maritime Provinces, Quebec, Toronto and Southern Ontario, Vancouver and Victoria, British Columbia.

Our purpose in this introduction is to situate these various contributions in the contemporary literature. First, we locate PWSI within the broader medical and feminist debates and note the limited empirical data on the Canadian context. The articles in this special issue aim to contribute to this scholarship by adopting a critical perspective that highlights the structural vulnerability of PWSI in Canada, as well as their heterogeneity along key variables. The issue also demonstrates the wider applicability of sociological concepts and theoretical insights, which in turn provide a general framework for organizing and elaborating on each of the contributions. We conclude by summarizing the contents of this special issue, identifying the main conclusions, and outlining new directions for future research.

Sex Industry Research

Although there has been substantial interest in PWSI among policy makers, service providers and academics in Canada and elsewhere, much of the scholarship on the topic has focussed on the moral, criminal and legal aspects of the industry, or on the proximate health risks associated with those involved (see Barry, 1995; Dworkin, 1997; Fraser Committee, 1985; Jackson, Highcrest and Coates, 1992; Pyett and Warr, 1997; Farley, 2004). In the last decade or so, however, research has shifted toward an understanding of the heterogeneity of those involved in the sex industry, the broader social determinants of their health and well-being, and the impact of stigma and social exclusion on their life chances (Sullivan, 1997; Lim, 1998; Vanwesenbeeck, 1994; 2005; Weitzer, 2000).

Canadian scholars have made important contributions to international scholarship, including comparative research regarding PWSI and other service occupations (Benoit, Jansson and McCarthy, 2005; Benoit, 2005; Shaver, 1996; 2005a). Other studies have documented the advantages and disadvantages of more elusive indoor work (Brock, 1998; Benoit and Millar, 2001; Lewis, Maticka-Tyndale, Shaver and Schramm, 2005; Shaver, 1994; STAR, 2004; 2005). Another body of research is now emerging on how PWSI integrate the private and public spheres of their lives, and the factors that determine whether home and work are protective of PWSI or not (Jackson, Bennett, Sowinski and Ryan, 2005; Shaver, 2005b). Other studies have examined the impact of discrimination or enacted stigma on the mental health of PWSI and their access to key living, health and social services resources (MacDonald and Jeffrey, 2004; Jeffrey and MacDonald, forthcoming; Phillips and Benoit, 2005; Benoit, Jansson and McCarthy, 2005). Finally, a small body of research has sought to understand the impact of early entry and different levels of involvement of female and male youth on their future life course trajectories (Benoit, Jansson and Anderson, forthcoming; Jansson and Benoit, 2006), while other studies in this area have attempted to critically analyse public policy and service responses to underage persons (Brock, 1998; Gorkoff and Waters, 2003). …

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