Tuesday, July 29, 2014
Immigration Article of the Day: Let's go outside: bodies, prostitutes, slaves and worker citizens by Julia O'Connell Davidson
Let's go outside: bodies, prostitutes, slaves and worker citizens by Julia O'Connell Davidson, Citizenship Studies, Volume 18, Number 5, 4 July 2014, pp. 516-532(17)
Abstract: In liberal thought, slavery is imagined as reducing the human being to nothing but a body, while the free and equal political subjects of modern liberal democracies are held to be abstract, universal and disembodied individuals. In theory, bodies are also unimportant in the wage labour exchange. Though traditional models of worker citizenship insist on state and employers' duty to protect the human worth of worker citizens, they also assume the disembodied, thing-like nature of commodified labour power. Because bodies are so obviously important in the exchange between prostitute and customer, sex work is difficult to reconcile with liberal fictions of disembodiment, and one strand of feminist debate on prostitution is preoccupied by the question of whether prostitutes are like slaves or wage labourers. Protagonists on both sides of this debate often reproduce liberal understandings of labour power as a ‘thing’ that can be detached from the person. And yet labour power is also a contested commodity, and wage labour has historically been likened to slavery by activists struggling against the commodification of labour power. This article argues that stepping outside liberal fictions of disembodiment and recognising the parallels between prostitution, wage labour and slavery would allow greater scope for establishing a common political subjectivity amongst prostitutes, other wage workers and all those who have an interest in halting and reversing the current global trend towards the commodification of everything. In this way, common political ground between prostitutes and other wage workers is more visible when we step outside liberal assumptions about embodiment, slavery, work and citizenship.