Dangerous Sex, Invisible Labor: An Introduction
2011. Dangerous Sex, Invisible Labor: Sex Work and the Law in India. Princeton University Press; co-published by Oxford University Press, India November 2011) 298 pp.
21 Pages Posted: 17 Apr 2016
Date Written: July 6, 2011
In Dangerous Sex, Invisible Labor, I normatively re-articulate the sex work debates from a postcolonial materialist feminist perspective. Against the backdrop of the popular representations of the third world sex worker as sex slave and vector of HIV, I explore what it means for Indian sex workers to demand workers’ rights and the varied distributional consequences that a normative recognition of these demands entails. The book argues that far from simply celebrating sex worker agency and making liberal claims for equality, Indian sex workers’ demands for workers’ rights are rooted in intertwined claims for recognition and redistribution to use Nancy Fraser’s terms. In a bid to reorient sex work debates away from a politics of harm and injury towards one of redistribution, the book draws on a critical genealogy of materialist feminism for its sophisticated vocabulary of female reproductive labor, including sexual labor, which is unavailable to radical feminism, currently the most influential feminist discourse on the prostitution question. The book then empirically details the political economies and legal ethnographies of two typical urban sex industries in India, namely, that of Sonagachi, Kolkata's biggest red-light area and Tirupati, a South Indian temple town, involving brothel-based sex work and geographically dispersed sex work, respectively. The book uses a legal realist approach to problematize the unwavering faith of both abolitionists and sex work advocates in the power of the criminal law by delineating the densely plural rule networks of private law rules, informal social norms and market structures prevalent in sex markets thus rendering visible, their enormous influence on the economics of sex work. Based on this, the book assesses the law’s redistributive potential by analyzing the possible economic consequences of policies such as partial decriminalization, complete decriminalization and legalization for empowerment on Sonagachi, demonstrating their counter-intuitive effects and problematizing the assumption that sex workers from even the same single red-light area share common interests. The book concludes with a theory of sex work from a postcolonial materialist feminist perspective.
Keywords: sex work, India, criminal law, trafficking, feminism, post-colonial, materialist feminism
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