Media, culture, and politics from an aesthetic-materialist's perspective.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Sex Work: Economies of Gender and Desire

Announcing a new course to be offered at Duke University in Fall 2008.

Sex Work: Economies of Gender and Desire
Women's Studies 150S/Cultural Anthropology 180S/Literature 124S/Sexuality Studies 120S
Tu Th 2:50 PM-4:05 PM (Friedl Bdg 126)
Instructor: Kinohi Nishikawa

The phrase “sex work” strikes most of us as paradoxical, confusing what we imagine to be an act of intimacy and pleasure with the banality of a nine-to-five job. Indeed, from prostitution to “exotic” dancing, sex work is seen as breaching important social divisions between labor and leisure, public and private, necessity and desire. It’s likely because of this confusion that our culture casts opprobrium on those who work in sex trades. Exotic dancers aren’t paid entertainers but bad mothers (Striptease). Prostitutes don’t negotiate the sex trade but are entrapped by it, never to escape (Born into Brothels). Female porn actors do what they do not because they want to do it but because they’ve been raped or abused as children (Howard Stern). In sum, mainstream culture slings personal attacks against people whose labor threatens the way we perceive the social order.

This course examines sex work as a particular form of gendered labor. Our aim is to understand sex workers as workers and to figure out what it is about their labor—“selling” embodied fantasy and desire—that disturbs citizens of modern capitalist societies. To this end, we will analyze the significance of sex trades operating as variable economies, at turns local (urban prostitution) and global (sex tourism), regulated (pornography) and criminalized (sex trafficking). We will also consider why the exchange of women’s bodies is important for the management of power in the sex trade and in modern capitalist societies more generally. Finally, we will attend to the views of sex workers themselves, for their experiences suggest it is still a relative luxury in this world to be able to separate one’s body or “intimate” sphere from the means by which one earns a living.

This course presents both transnational and U.S.-based case studies of sex work in prostitution, exotic dancing, and pornography. In order to foreground interdisciplinary dialogue of sex work issues, these case studies are illuminated by a variety of texts, including ethnographies, movies, investigative accounts, government reports, and memoirs by sex workers. This course fulfills the University research (R) requirement and would appeal to students from women’s studies, anthropology, public policy, sociology, and history, as well as the humanities.

Texts may include: Alexa Albert, Brothel: Mustang Ranch and Its Women; Denise Brennan, What’s Love Got to Do with It? Transnational Desires and Sex Tourism in the Dominican Republic; and Iceberg Slim, Pimp: The Story of My Life. Films may include: Lilja 4-Ever (dir. Lukas Moodysson); Working Girls (dir. Lizzie Borden); and The Girl Next Door (dir. Christine Fugate).

Three 4-5 page essays that respond to assigned texts in Units 1, 2, and 3.

Term Paper
8-10 pages in length, on a topic of the student’s choice. The term paper must integrate original and/or archival research into analysis of any topic related to the course.

Grade to be based on
Class participation 20%
Essay #1 10%
Essay #2 15%
Essay #3 20%
Term paper 35%


Alexa said...

I am trying to decide if it is ironic or not that Duke is offering a course on sex work. lol

Elizabeth Pisani said...

For texts, you might want to consider Laura Laura Agustín's Sex at the Margins: Migration, Labour Markets and the Rescue Industry

At the risk of being extraordinarily self-promoting, there's some interesting data on the economics of the sex trade in Asia in my own book, The Wisdom of Whores: Bureaucrats, Brothels and the Business of AIDS, published by Norton this month.