Sex Work:A Risky Business
.Cullompton,UK:Willan Publishing,2005.256 pp.ISBN:1–843–92082–4 (pbk).£18.99.
In a ﬁeld dominated by research on street-based prostitution, Teela Sanders’s ﬁrstbook ‘Sex Work: A Risky Business’ offers a much needed analysis of the complex-ity and plurality of contemporary sex markets.Grounded in the lived experiences of 55 women operating in a range of settings(from saunas, escort agencies and streets to private ﬂats) in the city of Birming-ham, this fascinating study offers a real insight into the more empirically signiﬁ-cant sectors of the sex industry. Avoiding what Weitzer calls ‘gratuitousmoralizing’ (2000: 6), a tendency all too common in this ﬁeld, and in keeping with a tradition of sound ethnographic practice, Sanders looks beyond the ascrip-tion of deviancy to uncover the more normative and routine elements of sex-work culture. In providing an empirically detailed yet analytically nuanced account of the organizational features of commercial sex this work complements an already rich body of scholarship in this vein (O’Connell Davidson, 1998; Brewis andLinsted, 2000; West, 2000).
Sex Work: A Risky Business
is also reminiscent of other more complex works inthe ﬁeld (Phoenix, 1999; O’Neill, 2001) in terms of its ability to contextualizeand present complex, three-dimensional accounts of women’s lives. ‘In contrastto the homogeneous, perpetually victimized, and linear subject embedded in legaldiscourse’ (Scoular, 2004: 352) and present in a number of domination theories,Saunders refuses to allow structural constraints to collapse and ﬂatten subjects whoare presented as sentient and reﬂexive, resisting strictures imposed upon them andattempting to control their circumstances by assessing risks, adapting andchanging practices as they learn from their own and others’ shared experiences.By the same token the author is not naïve and is careful not to overplay theascription of agency, taking care to balance accounts with instances when struc-tural divisions and occupational contexts hinder an individual’s ability to controloutcomes. By combining a socio-psychological with a socio-structural analysis,Sanders is able to overcome the classic individual vs. structure/victimization vs.autonomy dualism. Rather, the interaction between women’s narratives andorganizational and societal structures appears as a dynamic, the balance of whichis highly contingent, and offers varying opportunities and varying quality of spacesfor control, self management and co-operation. Power in this context is not viewedas a commodity owned by one group over another but is relational and, whilerecognized as being in many cases both economically and legally structured, itsimpact and its attendant risks are ‘not accepted but contested and negotiated by women in their interactions with both external structures and personal relationsincluding economic relationships with clients’ (p.41).By viewing women as subjects managing risks in prostitution, rather than as‘risky subjects’ per se, Saunders’s work joins a tradition of post-structuralist work which marks a departure from previous studies on prostitution which focus uponan uncritical acceptance of negative criminological and/or epidemiologicalcategories and, in doing so, (sometimes unconsciously, sometimes not) consoli-date and legitimatize increased penal and medicalized forms of discipline and