Discipline, autonomy and ambiguity: Organisations, markets and work in the sex industry, Christchuch, New Zealand
Degree GrantorUniversity of Canterbury
Degree NameDoctor of Philosophy
Research into prostitution has concentrated on the 'visible' forms of street work and massage parlours and has represented the sex worker - client relation through discourses of exploitation, coercion or the 'victimised' prostitute. This thesis argues that the competing but overlapping markets of massage parlours, escort work and telephone sex are assembled and reassembled throughout patterns of conflict and cooperation between diverse actors and groups of actors. These actors include the police, sex workers, prostitutes' collectives, managers, local councils and the media. The thesis focuses upon the diverse ways in which these actors combine in the sex industry in the specific locale of Christchurch. Attention is also paid to the specific ways in which the institutions of the massage parlour, escort services and telephone sex are organised as workplaces. This is made possible by drawing upon detailed empirical evidence collected through participant observation, in which I worked as a receptionist in two Christchurch massage parlours, and via the mobilisation of networks/connections assembled through my own work in the sex industry. The similarities and differences between the sex work institutions are documented and it is argued that the coercive, disciplinary form of management in the legal massage parlour arises out of the peculiar combination of official bureaucratic organisation and self-employed 'illegal' work. By contrast, 'illegal' escort services are characterised by forms of autonomous organisation that include cooperative arrangements between groups of women, small firms that hire support services and single operators. Telephone (simulated) sex is not covered by specific legislation and firms operate by embedding themselves in the service arrangements of telecommunication companies. A more general argument is made concerning the nature of paid work in the sex industry. Sex work is represented as normal by prostitutes' collectives working on behalf of sex workers but is experienced as stigmatised by these workers. This ambiguity regarding the work is emphasised in sex workers' discourses. These stress the normal, professional nature of paid work but their arguments are combined with both a strong desire to remain invisible and anonymous and a preference for informal arrangements with the police and other actors such as local councils. It is suggested that moves towards decriminalising sex work, which are aimed at making the work legal and visible, may introduce much stricter and tighter forms of regulation than currently exist.