Association for Feminist Anthropology
Volunteered - Oral Presentation Session
Winnipeg, in the heart of Treaty One territory, is the site of complex and overlapping interventions that deploy multiple labels for people in the sex trade. These open up a polarizing field that people in the sex trade navigate. Within this discursive field, they are cast within surprisingly simplistic oppositions: as blameless victims or “victim-criminals” (Majic, 2014), as mindless preys to systemic oppressions or perpetrators of exploitation (or even “self-exploitation”), as inherently innocent or guilty.
In an attempt to evade these dominating restrictive dichotomies, I take cues from recent articulations of an anthropology of becoming (Biehl & Locke, 2010, 2017). I thus focus on the openness and flux of social fields and dynamic trajectories of people’s lives as they navigate through and around public health milieus.
Within this thorny social terrain, how does the re-articulaion of sex workers “suffering” by various interveners open up new conditions and possibilities for emancipation and ruin, salvation and fallenness?
Drawing upon 5 years of ethnographic research among sex workers rights activists on Treaty One territory, I examine how the identity label of “sex worker” acts as a vital thing—that is, an identification that stirs up an array of moral projects, setting in motion particular “affective economies” (Adams, Kaufman, Hattum, & Moody, 2011). Being the object of much careful discussion, intention, deliberation, I describe how it is used as a deliberative identity that allows access to practical things like networks and services, but in this context, also creates barriers to access other resources.