An increasing amount of sex work in the United Kingdom is now digitally mediated, as workers and clients identify each other, agree prices and services, undertake security checks, and often make payment through various platforms and websites. Existing accounts of “digital sex work” have been both overly technological deterministic and optimistic, largely invisibilizing capital and the new forms of power and control it enables. The authors argue that the dominant platform for digital sex work in the United Kingdom, AdultWork, is reshaping the market in direct sexual services, driving down standards and prices, and normalizing risky behaviors. The article posits that these changes in the sex industry are symptomatic and reflective of wider shifts in labor-capital relations and technology and therefore argues that bringing research on platform work and sex work into closer dialogue is mutually productive. Studies of digital sex work would benefit from critical insights into power and control in platform work, while scholars of platform work—and of work and employment more generally—have much to learn from paying attention to the gendered labor of sex workers. In particular, resistance and collective organizing among sex workers, some of the most marginalized workers in contemporary capitalism, can suggest wider strategies of labor resistance and transformation in platform work and beyond.
Hustling the Platform: Capitalist Experiments and Resistance in the Digital Sex Industry
Kate Hardy is an associate professor in work and employment relations at the University of Leeds and a feminist activist. Her work has been widely published academically and disseminated through radio and news media. Kate is committed to generating methodologies that work with groups for social change. She is a founding member of Partisan Collective and Greater Manchester Housing Action and is an editor of New Technology, Work, and Employment.
Camille Barbagallo is a research fellow at the Centre for Employment Relations, Innovation and Change at Leeds University, UK. Her work interrogates how the reproduction of labor-power is valued, what it costs, and who pays the bill. She is an organizer with the Women’s Strike Assembly and editor of Women and the Subversion of the Community: A Mariarosa Dalla Costa Reader (2019).
Kate Hardy, Camille Barbagallo; Hustling the Platform: Capitalist Experiments and Resistance in the Digital Sex Industry. South Atlantic Quarterly 1 July 2021; 120 (3): 533–551. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/00382876-9154898
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