This is a piece I contributed to the 2016 Sex worker zine project publication of the MoVE:method:visual:explore project. Produced under a creative commons licence, I re-post it here.
The work shared in this publication reflects the combined and collective efforts of many individuals, in very different ways: people who sell sex; migrants; sex workers; researchers; students; activists; allies; facilitators; artists; advocates; funders; writers; curators; editors. These are not discrete, stand-alone labels – all involved in the project represent different combinations of these diverse, intersecting and ever-changing categories. Regardless of how we do (or don’t) identify, our roles are fluid, continuously shifting across both time and place. We are constantly moving between our public and private lives – both physically and emotionally; from our respective workplaces, into a zine workshop, across to a policy dialogue, onto a funding meeting, through to an international conference, over to an artist’s studio, back to – and often between – our homes. We are continuously engaging in different ways with, and for, different audiences; writing for a sex worker newsletter, talking to a client, supporting a bail application, updating social media, sending money home, creating an art work, drafting a submission to parliament, recording police abuses, curating an exhibition for an international conference, phoning family, getting ready for work, producing a blog post, revising a journal article, whatsapping a friend, co-creating an opinion piece, responding to enquiries from the media, paying our rent. We do not physically share the same spaces at all times, and we do not share the same lived experiences; we’re all – necessarily – different.
In this case, justice for South African and cross-border migrants who are engaged in the selling of sex. This is an important livelihood strategy that – due to its criminalisation in South Africa – is associated with multiple, intersecting injustices resulting from both direct and structural violence. Whether direct violence – at the hands of the police, a client, or a family member – or structural violence – resulting from the policies and attitudes that criminalise and stigmatise sex work – these experiences are bravely and carefully articulated in the zines shared here.
Those who are engaging with this work will – like those of us involved in its production – reflect many different views and experiences. Perhaps some are sex workers and/or migrants from South Africa and beyond who relate to the stories shared here. Some may be curious about how and why some migrants sell sex, or they may support the decriminalisation of sex work and are looking for further evidence to support their cause. Some will be opposed to the idea of sex work but recognise that, when opportunities are limited, this is an important livelihood opportunity for many and that we need to work collectively to address the injustices shared here. Others may remain opposed to sex work and wish to further securitise migration but may come away with new insights and understandings of the injustices experienced by those who move and sell sex. Maybe some are researchers and students who are looking for different ways of producing, sharing and communicating knowledge. Regardless, I hope that all who interact with this work come away with a clearer understanding of the ways that research processes can support, and contribute to, the multiple agendas and needs of those working to address social (in)justice.
I – like others involved in this project – am committed to supporting the development of research approaches that more effectively address concerns of social justice. We need to do things differently. We must move away from ways of just doing research, to ways of ensuring justice within research – both within the research process itself and in the ways our research is shared and engaged. This requires those of us who are identify (or who are identified as) researchers to be aware of our other identities, and to find ways of ensuring that our research practice contributes beyond the immediate needs of the academy. To do this not only requires us to maintain the rigour of quality, ethical scholarship – and our associated obligations thereof, including the training of postgraduate students and continued production of evidence – but to also (re)engage as allies and advocates. This is not something that is (currently) taught; our research practice, however, can – and should – help us to better support students and colleagues in developing and implementing approaches to strengthen justice in research.