Advertisement

Qualitative Sociology

, Volume 41, Issue 3, pp 337–360 | Cite as

Is Sex Work Sex or Work? Forming Collective Identity in Bangalore

  • Gowri VijayakumarEmail author
Article

Abstract

While sex worker activism grows increasingly vibrant around the world, the forms and practices of sex work vary widely, and are often secret. How do sex workers come to see themselves as sex worker activists? What tensions emerge in the formation of collective identity within sex worker activist organizations, especially when the term “sex work” has often traveled linked to transnational organizations and funding? To answer these questions, this article analyzes in-depth interviews and participant observation on sex worker activism in Bangalore, India. Focusing on an organization I call the Union, I argue that it was first within the “shop floor” of transnationally funded HIV prevention organizations, and then within the activist work of the Union, that sex workers came to identify collectively as activists at a large scale. However, distinct configurations of practice among gendered groups of sex workers in Bangalore meant each group related differently to the formation of a sex worker activist collective identity. Two aspects of sex workers’ practice emerged as particularly central: varying experiences of sex work as “sex” or as “work,” and varying levels of anonymity and visibility in public spaces. Organizing through transnationally funded HIV prevention programs helped solidify these categories of differentiation even as it provided opportunities to develop shared self-hood.

Keywords

Sex work Collective identity Social movements HIV/AIDS India 

Notes

Acknowledgments

My thanks to Raka Ray, Peter Evans, Gillian Hart, and Lawrence Cohen for their guidance on this project, and Shubha Chacko and Subadra Panchanadeswaran for their support throughout. This article also benefited from insightful readings by Kimberly Kay Hoang and three anonymous reviewers, as well as the members of Raka Ray's dissertation group. An early version received brilliant and crucial feedback from a group of scholars at a workshop hosted by the Center for the Study of Sexual Cultures and the Center for Race and Gender at UC Berkeley. The fieldwork for this article was completed while the author received financial support from the Social Science Research Council and the National Science Foundation. Finally, my deepest thanks to those interviewed for the project, who were so willing to share their lives and ideas with me. All errors, of course, are my own.

References

  1. Altman, Dennis. 1996. Rupture or continuity? The internationalization of gay identities. Social Text 14 (3): 77–94.Google Scholar
  2. Altman, Dennis. 1999. Globalization, political economy, and HIV/AIDS. Theory and Society 28: 559–584.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Armstrong, Elizabeth A. 2002. Forging gay identities: Organizing sexuality in San Francisco, 1950–1994. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.Google Scholar
  4. Arondekar, Anjali. 2009. For the record: On sexuality and the colonial archive in India. Durham. Duke University Press.Google Scholar
  5. Arondekar, Anjali. 2012. Subject to sex: A small history of the Gomantak Maratha Samaj. In South Asian feminisms: Contemporary interventions, ed. Ania Loomba and Ritty A. Lukose, 244–263. Durham: Duke University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Berg, Heather. 2014. Working for love, loving for work: Discourses of labor in feminist sex-work activism. Feminist Studies 40 (3): 693–721.Google Scholar
  7. Bernstein, Mary. 1997. Celebration and suppression: The strategic uses of identity by the lesbian and gay movement. American Journal of Sociology 103 (3): 531–565.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Bernstein, Elizabeth. 2007. Sex work for the middle classes. Sexualities 10 (4): 473–488.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Bernstein, Elizabeth. 2010. Temporarily yours: Intimacy, authenticity, and the commerce of sex. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.Google Scholar
  10. Bindman, Julia, and Jo Doezema. 1997. Redefining prostitution as sex work on the international agenda. London: Anti-Slavery International.Google Scholar
  11. Biradavolu, Monica, Kim Blankenship, Annie George, and Nimesh Dhungana. 2015. Unintended consequences of community-based monitoring systems: Lessons for an HIV prevention intervention for sex workers in South India. World Development 67: 1–10.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Boyce, Paul. 2007. Conceiving “kothis”: Men who have sex with men in India and the cultural subject of HIV prevention. Medical Anthropology 26 (2): 175–203.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Buzdugan, Raluca, Andrew Copas, Stephen Moses, James Blanchard, Shajy Isac, Banadakoppa M. Ramesh, Reynold Washington, Shiva S. Halli, and Frances M. Cowan. 2010. Devising a female sex work typology using data from Karnataka, India. International Journal of Epidemiology 39 (2): 439–448.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Chakrabarty, R. 2013. Section 370 not for voluntary sex work: Verma panel. Times of India, 12 February.Google Scholar
  15. Chapkis, Wendy. 1997. Live sex acts: Women performing erotic labor. New York: Taylor & Francis.Google Scholar
  16. Chateauvert, Melinda. 2014. Sex workers unite: A history of the movement from stonewall to SlutWalk. Boston: Beacon Press.Google Scholar
  17. Cohen, Lawrence. 2005. The kothi wars: AIDS cosmopolitanism and the morality of classification. In Sex in development: Science, sexuality and morality in global perspective, ed. Stacy Leigh Pigg and Vincanne Adams, 269–303. Durham: Duke University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. D’Cunha, Jean. 1992. Prostitution laws: Ideological dimensions and enforcement practices. Economic and Political Weekly 27 (17): WS34–WS44.Google Scholar
  19. Dasgupta, Simanti. 2014. Sovereign silence: Immoral traffic (prevention) act and legalizing sex work in Sonagachi. PoLAR: Political and Legal Anthropology Review 37 (1): 109–125.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Delacoste, Frederique, and Priscilla Alexander. 1998. Sex work: Writings by women in the sex industry. San Francisco: Cleis Press.Google Scholar
  21. Epstein, Steven. 1988. Gay politics, ethnic identity: The limits of social constructionism. Socialist Review 93: 9–54.Google Scholar
  22. Gall, Gregor. 2007. Sex worker unionisation: An exploratory study of emerging collective organisation. Industrial Relations Journal 38 (1): 70–88.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Gall, Gregor. 2012. An agency of their own: Sex worker union organizing. Washington, DC: Zero Books.Google Scholar
  24. Gamson, Joshua. 1995. Must identity movements self-destruct? A queer dilemma. Social Problems 42 (3): 390–407.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. George, Annie, U. Vindhya, and Sawmya Ray. 2010. Sex trafficking and sex work: Definitions, debates and dynamics—A review of literature. Economic and Political Weekly 45 (17): 24–30.Google Scholar
  26. Ghaziani, Amin. 2011. Post-gay collective identity construction. Social Problems 58 (1): 99–125.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Ghose, Toorjo, Dallas Swendeman, Sheba George, and Debasish Chowdhury. 2008. Mobilizing collective identity to reduce HIV risk among sex workers in Sonagachi, India: The boundaries, consciousness, negotiation framework. Social Science & Medicine 67 (2): 311–320.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Ghosh, Swati. 2003. The flying prostitute: Identity of the (im)possible other. Hecate 29 (2): 199–214.Google Scholar
  29. Ghosh, Swati. 2004. The shadow lines of citizenship: Prostitutes’ struggle over workers’ rights. Identity, Culture and Politics 5 (1–2): 105–123.Google Scholar
  30. Ghosh, Swati. 2005. Surveillance in decolonized social space: The case of sex workers in Bengal. Social Text 23 (2): 55.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Ghosh, Apoorva. 2015. LGBTQ activist organizations as “respectably queer” in India: Contesting a western view. Gender, Work & Organization 22 (1): 51–66.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Grant, Melissa Gira. 2014. Playing the whore: The work of sex work. New York: Verso.Google Scholar
  33. Grewal, Inderpal, and Caren Kaplan. 2001. Global identities: Theorizing transnational studies of sexuality. GLQ: A Journal of Lesbian and Gay Studies 7 (4): 663–679.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Hardy, Kate. 2010. Incorporating sex workers into the argentine labor movement. International Labor and Working-Class History 77 (1): 89–108.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Hoang, Kimberly Kay. 2010. Economies of emotion, familiarity, fantasy, and desire: Emotional labor in ho chi Minh City’s sex industry. Sexualities 13 (2): 255–272.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Hoang, Kimberly Kay. 2011. She’s not a low-class dirty girl!’: Sex work in ho chi Minh City, Vietnam. Journal of Contemporary Ethnography 40 (4): 367–396.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Hoang, Kimberly Kay. 2015. Dealing in desire: Asian ascendancy, western decline, and the hidden currencies of global sex work. Berkeley: University of California Press.Google Scholar
  38. Hunt, Scott A., and Robert D. Benford. 2004. Collective identity, solidarity, and commitment. In The Blackwell companion to social movements, ed. David A. Snow, Sarah A. Soule, and Hanspeter Kriesi, 433–457. Malden: Blackwell.Google Scholar
  39. Jameela N. 2007. The autobiography of a sex worker (trans: Devika, J.). New Delhi: Westland.Google Scholar
  40. Jana, Smarajit, Ishika Basu, Mary Jane Rotheram-Borus, and Peter A. Newman. 2004. The Sonagachi project: A sustainable community intervention program. AIDS Education and Prevention 16 (5): 405–414.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Jenness, Valerie. 1993. Making it work. New York: Aldine de Gruyter.Google Scholar
  42. Kaiwar, Apoorva, and Sujata Gothoskar. 2014. Who says we do not work? Economic and Political Weekly 49 (46): 54–61.Google Scholar
  43. Karnik, Niranjan. 2001. Locating HIV/AIDS and India: Cautionary notes on the globalization of categories. Science, Technology & Human Values 26 (3): 322–348.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  44. Kempadoo, Kamala. 2003. Globalizing sex workers’ rights. Canadian Woman Studies 22 (3–4): 143–150.Google Scholar
  45. Kempadoo, Kamala, and Jo Doezema. 1998. Global sex workers: Rights, resistance, and redefinition. New York: Routledge.Google Scholar
  46. Khanna, Akshay. 2011. The social lives of 377: Constitution of the law by the queer movement. In Law like love: Queer perspectives on the law, ed. Gautam Bhan and Arvind Narrain, 174–202. New Delhi: Yoda Press.Google Scholar
  47. Khanna, Akshay. 2013. Three hundred and seventy seven ways of being: Sexualness of the citizen in India. Journal of Historical Sociology 26 (1): 120–142.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  48. Kimmel, Michael S. 1993. Sexual balkanization: Gender and sexuality as the new ethnicities. Social Research 60 (3): 571–587.Google Scholar
  49. Klandermans, Bert. 1996. The social psychology of protest. Cambridge: Blackwell.Google Scholar
  50. Klandermans, Bert. 2002. How group identification helps to overcome the dilemma of collective action. American Behavioral Scientist 45 (5): 887–900.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  51. Kole, Subir K. 2007. Globalizing queer? AIDS, homophobia and the politics of sexual identity in India. Globalization and Health 3 (8): 1–16.Google Scholar
  52. Kole, Subir K. 2009. From “veshyas” to “entertainment workers”: Evolving discourses of bodies, rights, and prostitution in India. Asian Politics & Policy 1 (2): 255–281.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  53. Kotiswaran, Prabha. 2011a. Dangerous sex, invisible labor: Sex work and the law in India. Princeton: Princeton University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  54. Kotiswaran, Prabha, ed. 2011b. Sex work. New Delhi: Women Unlimited.Google Scholar
  55. KSAPS. 2011. Annual action plan 2012–2013. Bangalore: Karnataka State AIDS Prevention Society.Google Scholar
  56. Lakkimsetti, Chaitanya. 2014. “HIV is our friend”: Prostitution, power and state in postcolonial India. Signs: Journal of Women in Culture and Society 40 (1): 201–226.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  57. Lakkimsetti, Chaitanya. 2016. Empowered criminals and global subjects: Transnational norms and sexual minorities in India. Qualitative Sociology 39 (4): 375–396.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  58. Leigh, Carol. 1997. Inventing sex work. In Whores and other feminists, ed. Jill Nagle, 223–231. New York: Routledge.Google Scholar
  59. Lorway, Robert, and Shamshad Khan. 2014. Reassembling epidemiology: Mapping, monitoring and making up people in the context of HIV prevention in India. Social Science & Medicine 112: 51–62.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  60. Lorway, Robert, Sushena Reza-Paul, and Akram Pasha. 2009. On becoming a male sex worker in Mysore: Sexual subjectivity, “empowerment,” and community-based HIV prevention research. Medical Anthropology Quarterly 23 (2): 142–160.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  61. Melucci, Alberto. 1985. The symbolic challenge of contemporary movements. Social Research 52 (4): 789–816.Google Scholar
  62. Melucci, Alberto. 1995. The process of collective identity. Social Movements and Culture 4: 41–63.Google Scholar
  63. Menon, Nivedita. 2009. Sexuality, caste, governmentality: Contests over “gender” in India. Feminist Review 91 (1): 94–112.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  64. Menon N. 2013. Gender just, gender sensitive, NOT gender neutral rape laws. Kafila. March 8. https://kafila.online/2013/03/08/gender-just-gender-sensitive-not-gender-neutral-rape-laws/.
  65. Mgbako, Chi. 2016. To live freely in this world: Sex worker activism in Africa. New York: NYU Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  66. Ministry of Law and Justice. 2013a. Criminal law (amendment) ordinance, 2013. http://www.prsindia.org/uploads/media/Ordinances/Criminal%20Law%20Ordinance%202013.pdf. Accessed 25 June 2018.
  67. Ministry of Law and Justice. 2013b. Criminal law (amendment) act, 2013. http://indiacode.nic.in/acts-in-pdf/132013.pdf. Accessed 25 June 2018.
  68. Mohini, Vishwa. 2013. President Pranab Mukherjee gives nod to tough anti-rape ordinance. Times of India, 4 February 2013.Google Scholar
  69. Moon, Dawne. 2012. Who am I and who are we? Conflicting narratives of collective selfhood in stigmatized groups. American Journal of Sociology 117 (5): 1336–1379.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  70. Moussawi, Ghassan. 2015. (Un) critically queer organizing: Towards a more complex analysis of LGBTQ organizing in Lebanon. Sexualities 18 (5–6): 593–617.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  71. Munson, Ziad W. 2010. The making of pro-life activists: How social movement mobilization works. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.Google Scholar
  72. Nagle, Jill. 1997. Whores and other feminists. New York: Routledge.Google Scholar
  73. Nanda, Serena. 1990. Neither man nor woman: The hijras of India. New York: Wadsworth.Google Scholar
  74. National Network of Sex Workers. 2013. Clarification sought from the Justice Verma committee. http://nnswindia.org/upload/News/Press-Release/JVC-Section-370IPC-Clarification.pdf. Accessed 25 June 2018.
  75. Nepstad, Sharon Erickson. 2004. Persistent resistance: Commitment and community in the plowshares movement. Social Problems 51 (1): 43–60.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  76. Ng, Marie, Emmanuela Gakidou, Alison Levin-Rector, Ajay Khera, Christopher J.L. Murray, and Lalit Dandona. 2011. Assessment of population-level effect of Avahan, an HIV-prevention initiative in India. Lancet 378 (9803): 1643–1652.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  77. Oselin, Sharon S., and Ronald Weitzer. 2013. Organizations working on behalf of prostitutes: An analysis of goals, practices, and strategies. Sexualities 16 (3–4): 445–466.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  78. Polletta, F., and James M. Jasper. 2001. Collective identity and social movements. Annual Review of Sociology 27: 283–305.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  79. Puri, Jyoti. 2016. Sexual states: Governance and the struggle over the antisodomy law in India. Durham: Duke University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  80. Sunder Rajan, Rajeswari. 2003. The prostitution question(s): Female agency, sexuality, and work. In The scandal of the state: Women, law, and citizenship in postcolonial India, ed. Rajeswari Sunder Rajan, 117–146. Durham: Duke University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  81. Ramberg, Lucinda. 2014. Given to the goddess: South Indian devadasis and the sexuality of religion. Durham: Duke University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  82. Rao, Prasada J.V.R. 2010. Avahan: The transition to a publicly funded programme as a next stage. Sexually Transmitted Infections 86 (1): 7–8.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  83. Reddy, Gayatri. 2005. With respect to sex: Negotiating hijra identity in South India. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  84. Reddy, Gayatri. 2010. Hijras, “AIDS cosmopolitanism,” and questions of izzat in Hyderabad. In Routledge handbook of sexuality, health, and rights, ed. Peter Aggleton and Richard Parker, 97–107. New York: Routledge.Google Scholar
  85. Rupp, Leila J., and Verta Taylor. 1999. Forging feminist identity in an international movement: A collective identity approach to twentieth-century feminism. Signs 24 (2): 363–386.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  86. Sahni, Rohini, and V. Kalyan Shankar. 2013. Sex work and its linkages with informal labour markets in India: Findings from the first pan-India survey of female sex workers. Brighton: Institute of Development Studies.Google Scholar
  87. Seshu, Meena, and Shohini Ghosh. 2008. Shades of grey: Selling sex--work, business, or a profession? Talking about reproductive and sexual health issues (TARSHI). http://www.tarshi.net/index.asp?pid=215.
  88. Shah, Nayan. 1998. Sexuality, identity and the uses of history. In Q&a: Queer in Asian America, ed. David L. Eng and Alice Y. Hom, 141–156. Philadelphia: Temple University Press.Google Scholar
  89. Shah, Svati. 2014. Street corner secrets: Sex, work, and migration in the city of Mumbai. Durham: Duke University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  90. Sukthankar, Ashwini. 2012. Queering approaches to sex, gender, and labor in India: Examining paths to sex worker unionism. In South Asian feminisms, ed. Ania Loomba and Ritty A. Lukose, 306–332. Durham: Duke University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  91. Tambe, Ashwini. 2006. Brothels as families: Reflections on the history of Bombay’s kothas. International Feminist Journal of Politics 8 (2): 219–242.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  92. Tambe, Ashwini. 2009. Codes of misconduct: Regulating prostitution in late colonial Bombay. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.Google Scholar
  93. Taylor, Verta, and Nancy E. Whittier. 1992. Collective identity in social movement communities: Lesbian feminist mobilization. In Frontiers of social movement theory, ed. Aldon D. Morris and Carol McClurg Mueller, 104–129. New Haven: Yale University Press.Google Scholar
  94. Verma, J.S., Leila Seth, and Gopal Subramanium. 2013. Report of the committee on amendments to criminal law. PRS India. http://www.prsindia.org/uploads/media/Justice%20verma%20committee/js%20verma%20committe%20report.pdf. Accessed 25 June 2018.
  95. Weitzer, Ronald. 1991. Prostitutes’ rights in the United States: Failure of a movement. The Sociological Quarterly 32 (1): 23–41.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC, part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of SociologyBrandeis UniversityWalthamUSA

Personalised recommendations