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Cult Health Sex. 2011 Jan;13(1):15-29. doi: 10.1080/13691058.2010.517324.

Structure and agency: reflections from an exploratory study of Vancouver indoor sex workers.

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School of Nursing, University of British Columbia, Vancouver, Canada.


Sex work research continues to be characterised by debates around decriminalization. Central to these debates are claims about the agency of those involved in the sex trade. Some researchers argue that individuals involved in the sex trade are victims of structural and interpersonal constraint, whilst others depict them as workers exercising choice. Drawing on structure-agency theory, a review of legal and media accounts of the sex trade and qualitative interviews with 21 indoor sex workers in Vancouver, Canada, we argue that both of these perspectives are insufficient. Rather than reducing the sex trade to part of a binary, we suggest that it is necessary to analyse sex work through the complex interplay of both structure and agency. Specifically, structural analyses undercover the numerous ways that sex workers are controlled, observed and influenced whilst agency perspectives elicit the means that sex workers continue to exercise control in spite of disadvantage. While we do not finalise decriminalisation debates, we do critique current Canadian laws for the lack of responsiveness to the lives of sex workers and their exploitative and contradictory stance on sex work.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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