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Social Movements in Troubled Water – Nordic Sex Workers’ Organisations 1970–2020

Funded by the Faculty of Social Sciences and the Ottar Fund
Project period: 2015–2020
Approved by Lund Regional Ethical Committee (no. 2016/214)

Stig Danielson, ’Rabbits of Affection’ 1974. The art project ’Rabbits of Affection’ was inspired by the lives of sex workers and was displayed at Konstfrämjandet in Malmö in 1977. Reproduced with the permission of Stig Danielson’s heirs.

The project will investigate sex workers’ political and social organisation in Denmark, Norway and Sweden from the 1970s until today. The overall aim is to analyse the formation of sex workers’ organisations and the context in which they worked. What allies did they seek, and what allies were possible to get? What ideological and strategic questions were most important for the activists? Were there internal tensions in the groups? How was their relationship with the different strands of the women’s movements, and how did that change over time and between countries?

These women-dominated movements emanated from 1970s radicalism, but already from the beginning they faced criticism motivated by strong ideological standpoints regarding prostitution. The material for the study consists of newspaper clippings, archival material, and memory interviews with activists and professionals who have been active in the field of prostitution in the three countries.

The comparison between the three countries demonstrates that otherwise similar Scandinavian welfare states dealt with questions of prostitution in radically different ways and that this have had an influence on the sex workers’ possibilities to organise.

Key concepts in this investigation are Gayatri Spivak’s ‘the Subaltern’s Voice,’ about the power over history, and the theories of social recognitions as formulated by Nancy Fraser and others. The project will result in a monography and a number of scientific articles.

The project is hosted by the Department for Gender Studies, Lund University, and also affiliated to the Centre for Sexology and Sexuality Studies (CSS) at Malmö University and to the research network FOSME, on commercial sexuality.