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  • Print publication year: 2020
  • Online publication date: November 2020

Chapter 5 - Sex Work in a Postwork Imaginary: On Abolitionism, Careerism, and Respectability

from I - Frontiers


This chapter examines calls to end work, contextualising contemporary understandings of sex work in light of recent developments in labour studies. Using texts from gender and sexuality studies, sex worker activism, and materialist feminism, we insist upon the importance of factoring sex work into postwork perspectives, whilst critiquing the stakes involved in feminist drives to abolish sex work. We examine sex worker demands for improved working conditions; the dangers criminalisation and abolitionism pose to sex worker rights, health and safety; the role of helping professions in displacing sex workers into ‘reputable’ forms of labour; and their focus upon abolishing sex work in particular rather than the interrogation of work in general. We argue that sex worker activists, who advocate for decriminalisation and destigmatisation, display a more sophisticated and critical approach to work than sex work abolitionists. The goal of sex worker advocacy is not to reify work, but rather to make visible under-recognised labour as part of a longer-term project to resist it. The recognition that sex work is work demands to be seen, not as an endpoint, but as a lever.

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