The multiplicities of prostitution experience : narratives about power and resistance

Abstract: This thesis is not primarily about ‘the rights and wrongs of prostitution’, at least not as they are conveyed in the prostitution debate, rather it aims to shift the focus from what prostitution is (work or violence, empowerment or exploitation), the topic of most prostitution debate, to how prostitution operates. That is, how power relations, knowledges, discourses and practices interconnect in making particular forms of prostitution and particular ways of making sense of prostitution experience possible. The study is situated on the feminist narrative field and is constituted of interviews with twenty women with prostitution experience. With a genealogical approach to narrative analysis the participants’ narratives are not treated as reflections of an assumed prostitution ‘reality’, but rather there is an exploration of what the participants do as they narrate their experience, how they, through their narratives, construct their identities and make sense of their experiences and their lives. By engaging with the participants’ narratives, the power and domination of the institution of prostitution and the multitude of tactics that the participants employed in order to negotiate, resist and destabilize power and domination were explored. The participants’ narratives were both entangled with and positioned against dominant narratives about prostitution and ‘the prostitute’. They contained complexities, contradictions and multiple meanings; prostitution was described as both enabling and constraining, as a means of resistance and as an effect of power. The participants spoke of how the institution of prostitution produced different experiences of being constituted as a ‘commodified body’, an ‘appropriate target for violence/undeserving victim’ and a stigmatized identity. 8 Depending on their social location and personal biography the participants were more or less able to manage the emotional and physical risks that prostitution involved. The narratives revealed how prostitution, as it currently operates, is conditioned by intersecting structures of social inequality.