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Positionality in Prostitution Research

Policy Analysis
Public Administration
Public Choice
Public Policy
P332
Hendrik Wagenaar
Kings College London
Martien Kuitenbrouwer
University of Amsterdam

Building: Faculty of Law, Floor: 1, Room: FL120

Saturday 14:00 - 15:40 (10/09/2016)


Abstract

Much scientific research on prostitution suffers from deep misunderstandings about, and ignorance of, on the part of academics about the everyday life circumstances and needs of sex workers and their families. That is not accidental, as opening up to these everyday experiences of sex workers can be challenging on a personal and professional level. In academic jargon this is called 'positionality'. Positionality refers to an awareness of, and an attitude of critical reflection on, the researcher's own frames of reference and the extent that these are embedded in dominant systems of knowledge and representation. Such frames may surreptitiously determine the research questions, the kind of data that are collected, the way these are interpreted, and the conclusions that are drawn from the research; resulting in research that doesn’t speak to the experiences of sex workers and that may easily lead to misguided policy recommendations. Kempadoo (2012) speaks of positionality as "unlearning dominant systems of knowledge and representation", learning to learn from below", "establishing an ethical relationship with our subjects". However, prostitution is a morally contested field where there is no neutral ground. Doing research on prostitution, therefore, has 'identity costs' in terms of where to position oneself on the continuum between scientific research and activism, and in between support and critical distance between public policy. The panel - conducted as a dialogue between sex workers, sex worker advocates and academic scholars - intends to explore and articulate positionality. The panel also wants to look forward and contribute to an ethics of prostitution research. References Kempadoo, K., (2012), Abolitionism, Criminal Justice, and Transnational Feminism: Twenty-first-century perspectives on Trafficking, in K. Kempadoo (ed.), Trafficking and Prostitution Reconsidered. New Perspectives on Migration, Sex Work, and Human Rights, Boulder, CO: Paradigm Publishers, vii-xlii

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