© 2013

Ethical Research with Sex Workers

Anthropological Approaches


Part of the SpringerBriefs in Anthropology book series (BRIEFSANTHRO)

Also part of the Springerbriefs in Anthropology and Ethics book sub series (AAE)

Table of contents

  1. Front Matter
    Pages i-xi
  2. Susan Dewey, Tiantian Zheng
    Pages 1-22
  3. Susan Dewey, Tiantian Zheng
    Pages 23-37
  4. Susan Dewey, Tiantian Zheng
    Pages 39-55
  5. Susan Dewey, Tiantian Zheng
    Pages E1-E1
  6. Back Matter
    Pages 101-111

About this book


This volume is the result of the many years the authors have spent conducting ethnographic field research with sex workers, conversing with other researchers, and, perhaps most importantly, developing a deep sense of empathy for the sex worker participants in the research as well as the colleagues who carry out this work with the goal of advancing social justice. They have a combined total of twenty-five years’ experience carrying out research with sex workers, and this extensive period of time has given them ample opportunity to reflect upon the topic of ethics.

Sex work, defined as the exchange of sexual or sexualized intimacy for money or something of value, encompasses a wide range of legal and illegal behaviors that present researchers with key ethical challenges explored in the volume. These ethical challenges include:

·         Research methodology

·         Distinguishing research from activism

·         Navigating the politically and ideologically charged environments in which researchers must remain constantly attuned to the legal and public policy implications of their work

·         Possibilities for participatory sex work research processes

·         Strategies for incorporating participants in a variety of collaborative ways

Sex work presents a unique set of challenges that are not always well understood by those working outside of anthropology and disciplines closely related to it. This book serves an  important function by honestly and openly reviewing strategies for overcoming these ethical challenges with the end goal of producing path-breaking research that actively incorporates the perspectives of research participants on their own terms. Ever attuned to the reality that research on sex work remains a deeply political act, Ethical Research with Sex Workers: Anthropological Approaches aspires to begin a dialogue about the meanings and practices ascribed to ethics in a fraught environment. Drawing upon a review of published scholarly and activist work on the subject, as well as on interviews with researchers, social service providers, and sex workers themselves,  this volume is an unprecedented contribution to the literature that will engage researchers across a variety of disciplines, such as academics and researchers in anthropology, sociology, criminal justice, and public health, as well as activists and policymakers.



Federal Certificates of Confidendiality criminalization of sex work ethical issues in researching sex work separating research and activism violence in researching sex work

Authors and affiliations

  1. 1.Women and Gender StudiesUniversity of WyomingLaramieUSA
  2. 2.Sociology/AnthropologyState University of New York, CortlandCortlandUSA

About the authors

They are Susan Dewey, University of Wyoming, Laramie, WY, USA; and Tiantian Zheng, State University of New York, Cortland, NY, USA.  Anthropologist Susan Dewey is Assistant Professor of Gender & Women’s Studies (and adjunct in International Studies) at the University of Wyoming, where she teaches graduate and undergraduate courses on research methods, sex work, and public policy. She is the author or lead editor of three books and numerous articles and book chapters on sex work, including Neon Wasteland: On Love, Motherhood, and Sex Work in a Rust Belt Town (University of California Press, 2011), Hollow Bodies: Institutional Responses to Sex Trafficking in Armenia, Bosnia, and India (Kumarian Press, 2008), and Policing Pleasure: Sex Work, Policy, and the State in Global Perspective (with Patty Kelly, New York University Press, 2011). Her research has been supported by the National Science Foundation and Fulbright-Hays. Tiantian Zheng holds a Ph.D. in Anthropology from Yale University. She is Professor of Anthropology in the Department of Sociology/Anthropology at State University of New York, Cortland. Her book Red Lights is the Winner of the 2010 Sara A. Whaley Book Prize from the National Women’s Studies Association for the significant contribution to the topic of women and labor. Her book Ethnographies of Prostitution in Contemporary China is the Winner of the 2011 Research Publication Book Award from the Association of Chinese Professors of Social Sciences in the United States. She is the author of Red Lights: The Lives of Sex Workers in Postsocialist China (University of Minnesota Press, 2009), Ethnographies of Prostitution in Contemporary China: Gender Relations, HIV/AIDS, and Nationalism (Palgrave Macmillan Press, 2009), editor of Sex-Trafficking, Human Rights, and Social Justice (Routledge 2010), and the lead author of HIV/AIDS Through an Anthropological Lens (Kendall Hunt Press, 2009).

Bibliographic information

  • Book Title Ethical Research with Sex Workers
  • Book Subtitle Anthropological Approaches
  • Authors Susan Dewey
    Tiantian Zheng
  • Series Title SpringerBriefs in Anthropology
  • Series Abbreviated Title SpringerBriefs in Anthropology
  • DOI
  • Copyright Information The Author(s) 2013
  • Publisher Name Springer, New York, NY
  • eBook Packages Behavioral Science Behavioral Science and Psychology (R0)
  • Softcover ISBN 978-1-4614-6491-4
  • eBook ISBN 978-1-4614-6492-1
  • Series ISSN 2195-0806
  • Series E-ISSN 2195-0814
  • Edition Number 1
  • Number of Pages XI, 111
  • Number of Illustrations 0 b/w illustrations, 0 illustrations in colour
  • Topics Anthropology
    Sexual Behavior
    Sociology, general
  • Buy this book on publisher's site


“It draws greater attention toward ethical consideration which is need of the hour for social scientist in making their research work more scientific and ethical. … This book been organized into crisp 4 chapters centered on the ethical issues around the research with sex workers. … this book is an important reading material for many disciplines like sociology, psychology, law, public health, social work etc.” (T. S. Seemanthini, Disabilities and Impairments, Vol. 28 (2), 2014)

“This text is a strong addition to the nascent body of literature that documents empirical research with sex workers. … This text would also be a good fit for doctoral-level courses in community psychology and courses that use a framework of community-based research or participatory action research. Academic courses and scholarship focusing on intersections between psychology and sexuality, global perspectives on sex work and sex trafficking, and social movements could use this text as a reading assignment.” (Theodore Burnes, PsycCRITIQUES, Vol. 58 (46), November, 2013)