|Deborah R. Brock. Making Work, Making Trouble: Prostitution as a Social Problem. Toronto, University of Toronto Press, 1998, 206 pp. $45.00 cloth, $18.95 paper.
This book has everything you ever wanted to know about prostitution in Canada. Indeed, it might even answer questions you were too ill-informed to ask.
Making Work, Making Trouble is a gloriously sociological work, firmly grounded in a theoretical perspective which argues that "social problems" are socially constructed from stem to stern. From the microcosm of how prostitutes understand their own lives to the macrocosm of the social institutions attempting to regulate their work, Deborah Brock offers a kaleidoscope of shifting definitions of the nature of the "problem" and the vain attempts of policy analysts and policy makers to find its "solution."
We enter this world of competing realities through the eyes of sex trade workers. Here, we find rational human beings making choices, selecting from an extremely limited range of options, alternatives of unpleasantness. As Deborah Brock explains "...it is not so different a process from the way in which working-class women find working-class jobs, generally" (p.15). Admittedly, it is not a great line of work, but it can be "a little easier than waitressing," as one respondent put it. If one has children, to have some control over one's working hours is of no negligible benefit.
Of course, prostitutes are not all working-class adult women, and this book meticulously documents the deliberations of the Committee on Sexual Offences Against Children and Youth (the "Badgley Committee," report released 1984) and the resulting moral panic over juvenile prostitution in Canada. Similarly, the ways in which the Special Committee on Pornography and Prostitution (the "Fraser Committee," report released 1985) defined the parameters of our "problem" is discussed. The ineffective legislative response which followed is analyzed in detail, as are local initiatives to contain and control but which seemed only to shift the trade to different venues.
In short, this is an encyclopedic book on Canada's futile attempts to design social policy which might otherwise humanely and effectively regulate the sex trades and protect its workers. It is also an excellent social history of how Canadians have been educated to understand the nature of its "social problems." Many insights are here for readers interested in the gentrification of neighborhoods, the emergence of residents' associations and their alliances with police forces. The activities of these interest groups and the social policies which work in their favour do not only affect prostitutes. They also have an impact on other neighbourhood residents who have no illusions about whether or not there is a "social safety net" which might have saved them, before they crashed.
This book presents a powerful argument for the decriminalization of prostitution, a policy option supported by many feminists, as well as the organizations which recently have been giving prostitutes their own political voice. Legalization is rejected on the grounds that when the state takes over as pimp or bawdy house manager little is done to repair the pariah status or enhance the autonomy of sex trade workers.
Deborah Brock begs us to reject age old stereotypes and disentangle ourselves from the icons of a shifting cultural landscape. Her book is not much fun to read. Some of this can be attributed to the density of the author's arguments which assume that prostitution is legitimately within the purview of the sociology of work. Most of the reader's discomfort, however, will derive from the human tragedies portrayed. These people live in our midst, in an environment which begrudges them their humanity. They have individual strengths and weaknesses, but so few suitable resources are available to them. How much longer can we tolerate social policies which blame and punish the vulnerable?
Judith C. Blackwell