Department of Culture and Learning

keynote speakers

Scott Cunningham

Baylor University


Our understanding of the effect of different prostitution regulatory regimes on public health and crime outcomes is very primitive given the lack of experimentation with policies by countries and states.  Without within-geography variation in public policy, it is impossible to say with any confidence what the causal effect of a given regulatory regime is.  A recent wave of papers in economics, though, have begun shedding more light on this question, particularly as it relates to public health and crime.  Much of what we are learning calls into question basic presuppositions about the determinants of sexual assault and the relationship between prostitution and sexually transmitted infection epidemics.  In this talk, I will provide an overview of these studies, as well as suggest avenues for future research.

Scott Cunningham is an associate professor of economics at Baylor University in Waco, Texas USA.  He received his doctorate in economics from the University of Georgia in 2007, and specializes in studies related to crime, risky sexual behaviors, drug and abortion policy.  He has published several articles and book chapters on the economics of prostitution as well as served as co-editor with Manisha Shah on the Handbook of the Economics of Prostitution (Oxford University Press, 2016).  

Kimberly Kay Hoang

The University of Chicago

Dealing in Desire: Asian Ascendancy, Western Decline, and the Hidden Currencies of Global Sex Work

Introducing an innovative frame of desire as a force of production, Dealing in Desire showcases the mutual construction of financial deal-making and intimacy in commercial sex work. Through ethnographic fieldwork conducted over the course of five years in Vietnam global sex industry (2006-2010), Dealing in Desire analyzes the role of confidence, the production of hierarchal status, and the buttressing of failure in creating the conditions of possibility for investment (and individual) potential. For Vietnam’s domestic super-elite who use the levers of political power to channel foreign capital into real estate and manufacturing projects, conspicuous consumption provided both a lexicon of distinction, and a means of communicating hospitality to potential investors. With the opening of Vietnam’s economy to foreign investment, a new ultra-high-end tier of sex workers emerged who deployed vocabularies of consumption and sexuality in an elaborate symbolic dance tailored to the needs of individual capital deals. High-end sex workers must engage in different technologies of embodiment to project an image of pan-Asian Ascendancy. In a slightly lower-tiered niche market catering to overseas Vietnamese men, sex workers were valued not only for their beauty but also for their ability to project deference around their clients while highlighting Asia’s rapid economic rise. Sex workers who catered to Western men in the two lowest-paying markets worked to project poverty and dependence to help men negotiate their personal sense of failed masculinity in the context of Western economic decline. By linking global political and economic transformations to intimate transactions this book illustrates how Ho Chi Minh City’s sex industry as not simply a microcosm of the global economy, but is a critical space where dreams and deals are traded.

Kimberly Kay Hoang is an Assistant Professor of Sociology and the College at the University of Chicago. She received her Ph.D. in 2011 from the Department of Sociology at the University of California, Berkeley and in 2012 she won the American Sociological Association Best Dissertation Award. Dr. Hoang is the author of, Dealing in Desire: Asian Ascendancy, Western Decline, and the Hidden Currencies of Global Sex Work (2015) published by the University of California Press. Dealing in Desire is the winner of six distinguished book awards from the American Sociological Association, the National Women Studies Association, and the Society for the Study of Social Problems.With funding support from the Social Science Research Council and the Fulbright Global Scholar Award, she is currently conducting research for her second book project, Playing in the Gray: Foreign Investment in Emerging Markets. This second book involves a comparative study of the articulation of inter-Asian flows of capital and foreign investment in Southeast Asia. Her work has been published in Social Problems, Gender & Society, City & Community, Contexts, and the Journal of Contemporary Ethnography. Her peer reviewed journal articles have won over 10 prizes from the Sociologists for Women in Society, Vietnam Scholars Group, and the American Sociological Association.

May-Len Skilbrei

University of Oslo

Sexual politics in motion: The role of prostitution policy in ‘the European’.

In current-day Europe, policies concerning gender and sexuality are up for discussion, and debates on whether or not to change laws and regulation on this are taking centre stage in national, bilateral and European exchange. Rape laws, abortion provisions, prostitution policies, human trafficking schemes, same-sex marriage and adoption rights, transgendered citizenship and practices of reproductive technologies are policy areas that cause divisions and debates over norms, religion, biology, technological advances, and, not least, challenge European ideals of harmonisation. Looking at policy not as a ‘problem solving device’, but instead as something that carries meaning I will analyse how development in contemporary sexual politics reflect how gender, sexuality and Europe are imagined, established and appropriated. Are European sexual politics changing as a response to changing norms, technologies and practices, so that the targets for policy intervention are moving, so to speak? Or does this have more to do with how sexuality and gender can be called upon to serve a function in establishing shared values, affects, identifications and belonging, and as such can be seen as sitting ducks readily available to be appropriated? The main example will be attempts to establish joint definitions of what the problem with prostitution is, and how particular forms of sexualities and gender relations are sanctioned in this, but this will be placed in this larger development of European sexual politics in motion.

May-Len Skilbrei is a Professor of Criminology at the University of Oslo, Norway. Her research deals with interactions between mobility, sexuality and gender, via investigations into prostitution, migration, human trafficking, marriage and sexual violence. Skilbrei combines ethnography with analysis of representations in court proceedings, media, popular culture and politics. Her more recent publications include the book Prostitution Policy in the Nordic Region: Ambiguous Sympathies (together with Charlotta Holmström), an article in Anti-Trafficking Review on practical consequences of victimhood constructions in court cases on trafficking (together with Anette Brunovskis), as well as the edited book Prostitution Research in Context: Methodology, Representation and Power (together with Marlene Spanger).   


Conference Chair Marlene Spanger     
Conference Co-Chair/COST Action Prospol Chair Isabel Crowhurst

Conference secretary Julie Skibsted Larsen

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