Kamala Kempadoo and Jo Doezema, editors. Global Sex Workers: Rights, Resistance, and Redefinition. New York: Routledge, 1998, 294 pp, $30.99 paper.

Global Sex Workers is a very useful addition to the growing literature on the expansion of the sex trade internationally, which is occurring concomitant to the process known as globalization. In particular, it focuses on the self-identification and agency of women sex workers located primarily in the Third World, in countries ranging from Cuba to Thailand to Ghana, as well as in migratory contexts. As in a growing number of the writings being produced by sex trade workers and their supporters in Canada, the United States and Europe, the authors in this collection present women and men who find a source of income in the sex trade as undertaking a form of labour (including migrant labour) that is not so different from other forms of work as is broadly imagined. They locate the mushrooming of this form of work within the global restructuring of capitalist production and investment, the negotiation of trade agreements which facilitate the flow of goods and finance capital across borders, the shifting character of employment, and the impact of the policies of the International Monetary Fund.

While the collection’s editors recognize that the division between those who provide sexual services and those who purchase it is highly gendered, they reject a simple victimization perspective to explain the preponderance of female suppliers and male purchasers. Instead, Kempadoo and Doezema focus on the bifurcation of roles for women (good/bad, virgin/whore, madonna/prostitute) in patriarchal societies, “where the “bad” girl becomes the trope for female sexuality that threatens male control and domination.” (p. 5). They insist that any debate about child prostitution” needs to include an analysis of global political economy, development and underdevelopment. They address the importance of an analysis of racism when discussing Third World sex workers in an international context, underscoring the importance of both “racisms embedded in structures and desires within specific local industries, and cultural imperialism refracted through international discourses on prostitution” (p. 10).

Kempadoo and Doezema expose the neo-colonial discourse in much recent feminist and pro-sex worker writings from the United States and Western Europe, which create a “hegemonic western script” about sex work (p. 12), while claiming to speak about an international movement. One of the ways in which this occurs is through the assumption that prostitutes’ political struggles were initiated in the United States and Europe during the 1970’s. The editors inform us of sex workers' organizing efforts during the nineteenth century in Poland, India and Guatemala, and in 1920s-30s colonial Kenya, in order to disrupt eurocentric feminist discourse.

This book is an important and timely contribution to the literature on international sex work. It demonstrates the futility of abolitionist campaigns, which attempt to eradicate prostitution without addressing its material base. Rather than attempting to eliminate sex work, we should lend our support to those who are organizing to address the specificities of the conditions in which sex work occurs.

Deborah Brock
Department ofSociology
Trent University

February 1999
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