One of my two key areas of scholarship is the contemporary feminist movement: in 2014, I published my second monograph The Politics of the Body (Polity Press) which analysed debates and initiatives on the topics of sexual violence, sex work, gender and Islam, and reproduction.
Since 2014 I have been developing this material and have now begun the research for my next book, provisionally entitled Feminism, Now. This will trace contemporary feminist debates through a number of broad thematic areas (sex, speech, identity, violence, labour, culture), asking questions about where and why feminists disagree, and what might bring them together. It will explore: feminism as identity; feminism as discourse; feminism as boundary; feminism as feeling; and feminism as refuge. The book will also be framed by an analysis of the contemporary Western context of growing right-wing populism, against which feminism must position itself.
I have published several posts on this blog which will inform this new book: these are listed and linked below.
Identity, Experience, Choice and Responsibility – this is the transcript of my keynote speech at the Feminist Futures conference at Queen Mary University London, which develops a thematic analysis of how feminism and neoliberalism intersect.
Neoliberalism and the Commodification of Experience – this blog explores how experience has become commodified in a neoliberal context, and how this plays out in feminist debates in which experiential narratives are wielded in adversarial and competitive ways. It was the basis for an academic paper, ‘Whose Personal is More Political?’ (see below).
‘Listen to Survivors’ and the fetishisation of experience – this post develops my analysis of experience in relation to the sex industry debate in particular, arguing that survivor narratives are wielded by sex industry opponents to discredit sex workers who argue for labour rights.
‘You’re not representative’: identity politics in sex industry debates – this post is a sequel to the one above, and argues that in addition to wielding ‘survivor stories’, opponents of the sex industry tend to focus on identity rather than substance in their engagement with sex workers who fight for labour rights.
I have published two academic papers based on this material: the first is entitled ‘Whose Personal is More Political? Experience in Contemporary Feminist Politics’ and was published in Feminist Theory. This paper was also recently shortlisted for the Feminist Theory 2016 Essay Prize. The published version is available here and the Open Access version here.
A second paper is forthcoming in the Journal of International Women’s Studies, entitled ‘Sex Wars Revisited: a rhetorical economy of sex industry opposition.’ This is an Open Access journal and the paper will come out in August 2017: the abstract is below.
This paper attempts to sketch a ‘rhetorical economy’ of feminist opposition to the sex industry, via the case study of debates around Amnesty International’s 2016 policy supporting decriminalisation as the best way to ensure sex workers’ human rights and safety. Drawing on Ahmed’s concept of ‘affective economies’ in which emotions circulate as capital, I explore an emotionally loaded discursive field which is also characterised by specific and calculated rhetorical manoeuvres for political gain. My analysis is situated in what Rentschler and Thrift call the ‘discursive publics’ of contemporary Western feminism, which encompass academic, activist, and public/media discussions. I argue that contemporary feminist opposition to the sex industry is shaped by a ‘sex war’ paradigm which relies on a binary opposition between radical feminist and ‘sex positive’ perspectives. In this framework, sex workers become either helpless victims or privileged promoters of the industry, which leaves little room for discussions of their diverse experiences and their labour rights. As Amnesty’s policy was debated, this allowed opponents of the sex industry to construct sex workers’ rights as ‘men’s rights’, either to purchase sex or to benefit from its sale as third parties or ‘pimps’. These opponents mobilised sex industry ‘survivors’ to dismiss sex worker activists supporting Amnesty’s policy as privileged and unrepresentative, which concealed activists’ experiences of violence and abuse and obscured the fact that decriminalisation is supported by sex workers across the world.