Prostitution Research in Context: Methodology, Representation and Power, 1st Edition (Hardback) book cover

Prostitution Research in Context

Methodology, Representation and Power, 1st Edition

Edited by Marlene Spanger, May-Len Skilbrei


176 pages | 8 B/W Illus.

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The starting point for this book is the question of how we research sex for sale and the implications of the choices we make in terms of epistemology and ethics. Which dilemmas and ethical aspects need to be taken into account when producing qualitative data within a highly politicised and moral-infected realm? These two questions are exactly what Spanger and Skilbrei aim to unpack in this unusual interdisciplinary methodology book, Prostitution Research in Context.

The book offers contributions from a number of scholars who, based on their reflections on their own research practice and the existing knowledge field, discuss ongoing methodological issues and challenges representative of international research on sex for sale. Some chapters deal explicitly with methodological dilemmas in research; others thematise the encounter between prostitution research and general texts on epistemology. Other chapters again actively engage with the ethical dilemmas that research on the topic of sex for sale can entail. The authors represent different disciplines, but share an interest in engaging in reflexive research practices informed by feminism and feminist epistemologies.

An authoritative contribution to the field, this innovative volume will appeal to international scholars and students from across the social sciences and humanities in areas such as sociology, anthropology, criminology, media studies, feminist studies, human geography and history.


Spanger & Skilbrei reach beyond disciplinary silos in posing novel epistemological questions that push researchers, practitioners, and services providers to reconsider status quo approaches to, and understandings of, transactional sex. By explicitly and fearlessly connecting political and theoretical issues, this edited collection offers a novel empirical contribution to an all-too-often polarized field of research.

Susan C. Dewey, Associate Professor, Gender & Women's Studies, University of Wyoming, USA.

For the first time, we have an interdisciplinary collection of work dedicated exclusively to sex work/prostitution research methodologies. In this inspiring, ground-breaking collection written by a number of key international scholars in the field, editors Spanger and Skilbrei urge us to think critically about the politics, power relations, and positionality in research processes and knowledge production about the sale of sex, and about how we can engage in informed and reflexive (feminist) research practices about the subject. A must read for anyone considering embarking upon sex work research.

Kamala Kempadoo, Professor, Department of Social Science, York University, Canada. Co-editor of Global Sex Workers: Rights, Resistance and Redefinition, author of Sexing the Caribbean: Gender, Race and Sexual Labour.

The study of prostitution appears one of the most ethiclly challenging and contentious areas of research in the social sciences. Avoiding stereotyped representations of this complex and diverse area of study, this edited collection provides a balanced and timely assessment of the way that those researching prostitution are obliged to situate their studies in a wider political and social context. A must read for all those who are researching prostitution, and an important contribution to debates in feminist epistemology and methodology'

Phil Hubbard, Professor of Urban Studies & Head of School, School of Social Policy, Sociology and Social Research King’s College London.

Table of Contents


  1. Exploring sex for sale: Methodological concerns
  2. Marlene Spanger and May-Len Skilbrei


    Theme 1 Manoeuvring in a politicised research field

  3. History and the politics of prostitution – Prostitution and the politics of history
  4. Judith R. Walkowitz

  5. Speaking the truth about prostitution
  6. May-Len Skilbrei

  7. Troubling unknowns and certainties in prostitution policy claims-making
  8. Isabel Crowhurst


    Theme 2 Researching for, about and with sex workers

  9. Epistemologically privileging the sex worker: Uncovering the rehearsed and presumed in sex work studies
  10. Lorraine Nencel

  11. Collaborative research with sex workers
  12. Carol Harrington

  13. The voice of images: Photovoice, sex workers and affective engagement
  14. Sealing Cheng


    Theme 3 Dangerous positions? Establishing the research field of sex for sale

  15. What do emotions do? Circulations of annoyance, hostility and shame in fieldwork
  16. Marlene Spanger

  17. Contamination or engagement? Doing class in prostitution research

Jeanett Bjønness

10. Seducing the seducer: Negotiating desire, discomfort and power in fieldwork

Christian Groes

Notes on contributors


About the Editors

Marlene Spanger is Associate Professor in the Department of Culture and Global Studies at Aalborg University, Denmark

May-Len Skilbrei is Professor in the Department of Criminology and Sociology of Law at the University of Oslo, Norway

About the Series

Interdisciplinary Studies in Sex for Sale

Interdisciplinary Studies in Sex for Sale is a new and exciting series emphasising innovative work on the complexities of sex for sale, its practices, the policies designed to regulate it and their effects. It covers both recent and historical developments with an aim to explore multidisciplinary and international perspectives, expand theoretical approaches, and analyse matters which are the subject of controversy and debate in this field.

We welcome submissions of single and co-authored books, as well as edited collections that address sex for sale, its practices and regulation, including those with a focus on: comparative analysis; multi-scalar approaches; methodological perspectives; cultural and economic contexts; and the policies concerned with the regulation of sex for sale.

This series emerges from, and intends to expand the work of the European Concerted Research COST Action IS1209 ‘Comparing European Prostitution Policies: Understanding Scales and Cultures of Governance (ProsPol)’, a European network funded under Horizon 2020 (

Learn more…

Subject Categories

BISAC Subject Codes/Headings:
SOCIAL SCIENCE / Sociology / General