Countering the Limited and Polarized Conceptualizations of Agency that Dominate the Sex Work

Susan Strega, Leah Shumka and the School’s Helga Hallgrimsdottir publish “The “Sociological Equation”: Intersections Between Street Sex Workers’ Agency and Their Theories about Their Customers” in the Journal of Sex Research. In the paper they seek to counter the existing limited and polarized conceptualizations of agency that dominate the sex work literature by providing an assessment of the ways in which female street sex workers seek to realize and exercise agency and enact strategies of resistance despite the violence ubiquitous in their work. They draw from worker narratives collected through individual and focus group interviews in five Canadian cities to highlight the nuanced and layered ways in which workers, collectively and individually, apply reasoning and argumentation to the risks represented by customers, as well as to other aspects of their working environment. Workers offered three significant theories related to which men buy sex on the street and why (some) men buy sex; we describe how they employ these to negotiate the conditions of their work, nesting our findings within a broader socio-cultural analysis of the risks workers experience as they navigate complex, highly politicized working environments. This paper demonstrates how workers appropriate hegemonic masculinity discourses as well as intersecting race, class and gender discourses to inform their rationales for choosing some customers over others.