Globalization, Prostitution and Sex Trafficking: Corporeal Politics

Author:   Elina Penttinen
Publisher:   Routledge
Reviewer:   Pragya Gautam
Designation:   Ph.D Stduent , Centre for the Study of Social Systems, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi

Penttinen, Elina. “Globalization, Prostitution and Sex Trafficking: Corporeal Politics”, Routledge, 2007.

This book makes an attempt to look at the global sex industry and how individual players in the industry embody the process of globalization. Unlike the macro approach to the studies on globalization, the book focuses on an in-depth analysis with the use of narratives from fieldwork in Russia and Baltic. She uses narratives as a research method to extend the prospect of research and to integrate an inter-disciplinary approach in international relation research. She argues that the global sex industry operated in the form of shadow globalization and uses Appadurai’s framework of landscape of globalization to make her point. The concept of bio-power is also used with reference to Foucault and Judith Butler to argue that globalization produces sex and ethnicized subject position which is integrated and embodied. The complex flow of globalization creates new forms of agency and subjectivity among the women in the industry. The aim of the book is to discover new forms of agency in globalization and shows that prostitution is a result of international politics as a means to cope with globalization. The manifestation of globalization in everyday life is seen and highlights how globalization theories have ignored the question of ethnicity and gender.

The book consists of five core chapters, it begins with feature of globalization, then discusses bio-power and subjectivation in the sex economy, it goes on to discusses sexscapes and constructing landscape of globalization. It is followed by chapters on narratives from the authors field work in parts of Finland. The book discusses the rise of commercial sex industry in Finland along with the illegal business growing in the shadows of globalization. The demand for erotic other increases women trafficking who portray themselves as not the ‘real’ but for business in which women are at the shadow although both the client and the women exist in the landscape of globalization.

Erotic clubs started in Finland only after 1990’s and is it only after that did the concept of the ‘eastern girl’ start being used. The eastern Russian woman looks like the women in the destination countries but still is significantly different from the western women. She as an outsider is considered as more valuable and at the same time affordable at lower pay than the native. The Soviet Union had jobs for women but with the collapse of the Soviet Union, women lost their jobs that became a push factor for them to travel to other destinations for work. Women faced difficulty to cope with the collapse as their position in the society changed from being a productive labour force to a house maker. This resulted in the growth of sex industry and as the commercial sex industry grew there was also growth in the illegal sex business in the shadows. Another reason for the rise of commercial sex business was due to the economic crisis, it started with the setting up of strip bars. Due to unemployment men spent more time in bars therefore created masculine spaces. As a counter to the ‘eastern girl’ term, Finland is referred to as the ‘land of perverts.’

Sex business leads to debates in favour and against sex work which may be voluntary and forceful. This debate has gained prominence since prostitution has been created as a market agenda where vulnerability of these Russian women is used in this market economy. There is a lack of data on the number of women trafficked as due to the different immigration policies in countries it is difficult to keep a track of their numbers. The position of the prostitute develops a self identity in the women as against the category of the other. Power is used to makes the subject position of the women and on the other hand the subject reinstates power. With the use of new technology the sex industry has also seen a growth and expansion of services and reduction of cost in term of advertisements. Information is passes on online and can be accessed by a large audience which has expanded to coverage of the industry.

The narrative of sex workers in Finland gives a vivid picture of the functioning of globalization which is embodied in these individuals and shows women’s position in the global world. These women could make more money in a week in Finland then they would make in six months in Estonia. Finland is only seen as a transit country and the main destination is resorts in Spain, therefore there is constant movement of sex workers from one place to another through organized criminal networks. To be a professional prostitute a women require having certain qualities which make them suitable for the job. A man can have her body depending on the time and cost and the way he decides to have it. These women have been called by various names, Russian whores, brides and even red meat but not called prostitutes. The impact of prostitution in Finland has developed a strain on local marriage, as men leave their wife and marry a Russian woman. This marriage is not looked at with positive light and these women only get into a marriage to protect their child or as a way of entering the west.

There is a distinction on how sex bars and erotic clubs are referred to, for the strippers this space is an erotic club which for them is an important distinction to understand their abject position, boundaries and subjectivity. The main question that the author is grappling with is that how globalization operates as system of power with the use of Foucault’s concept of governmentality giving rise to trafficking and prostitution. This shadow landscape of globalization or the sexscape is discussed using Appadurai’s framework of landscape globalization. She situates her work in feminist tradition of international relation and postmodern and standpoint feminism.

The author discusses her position as a researcher, how her position has affected the research and difficulties faced at various levels of her research. She starts by saying how the scope of research in international relations has been limited she wants to make an attempt to address this gap. She shares her feelings and emotions experienced during field work in the strip clubs. The way she was looked at by the men who came to the clubs as well as the strippers and her thoughts that came to her mind at that time. Her body was seen as ‘regular women,’ she questions what this regular woman really means. Her inhibitions in approaching people are discussed as she was not sure about how they would reciprocate to her. She also realizes that getting information was as not an easy task and all information received were not correct and misleading as well.

It is an interesting book and invokes the reader to think about issues of prostitution, trafficking and globalization. Chapters discusses how a prostitute is perceived in the transit country but it would have showed more light on her position if some detail about how her profession is perceived in the home country is talked about. The book also misses the nuances of the prostitute’s life in a space other than the erotic clubs and the emotional feeling that a sex worker goes through at various stages of her life. These points would have given a depth to the study and would build a better understanding of their lives in the globalized world. 

Pragya Gautam, Ph.D Stduent , Centre for the Study of Social Systems, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi, email ID: [email protected].

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