17 April 2009

Book Review: Sex at the Margins

Laura Maria Agustin is a Spanish sociologist focusing on the intersection of prostitution and migration. The main thrust of her book analyzes how the "rescue industry" that has been created around migrant sex workers disempowers migrant sex workers stripping them of agency.

Agustin's book first takes a critical look at the history of tourism, prostitution, and the globalization of the service economy. Her look at the creation of the category of "prostitution" is very fascinating and the relationship that independent women had to their communities and how the creation of "prostitution" as something to remedy was a response to that independence.

She shows how the "rescue industry" regarding migrant sex workers is an outgrowth of the nineteenth century movement of the upper-classes to discipline women bodies into "proper jobs" and "proper roles" that "better" regulated every aspect of a woman's life for women. This reminded me of Anne McClintock's Imperial Leather which goes into the nineteenth century history of regulating women's bodies and colonial space in much more detail.

Agustin points out that stereotyping all migrant sex workers as being "trafficked" is inaccurate and inadequate in describing their lives. Agustin shows that many migrant sex workers make rational choices to migrate and work in the sex industry. She also demonstrates that the "rescue industry" that targets these kinds of sex workers deprives these men and women of their agency and that such "rescue" groups do not act without self-interest.

Agustin calls for international efforts aimed at migrant sex workers to move from a charity/rescue model to solidarity for social justice. This book is a fascinating look about this under-researched and under-theorized aspect of sexuality and globalization.

The version I read was a 224 page paperback published by Zed Books (August 7, 2007), ISBN-13: 978-1842778609. It is written in English. The lowest price I found online was at abebooks.


  1. my god, you read books like how often I clean my ears. hahahaha.

    still it is rather incredible, the number of voluntary migrant porstitues is underestimated?

  2. voluntary migrant sex workers are totally invisible in int'l NGO counts. they are counted as sex slaves or "trafficked"