ProsPol Conference

It’s nice to be back in the lab, sitting on the grey sofa in the Design Space to reflect on the last week. I’ve been away: one week, four countries; but that’s for another post. Today I want to write to you about the ProsPol conference. Well, actually it was the second conference organised by ProsPol, which is an Action funded by COST. The conference was called Displacing Sex For Sale and marked the end of the four-year project that was ProsPol titled Comparing European Prostitution Policies: Understanding Scales and Cultures of Governance

Despite it being the end to a European project, the conference was amazingly international, and it was great to be somewhere that wasn’t attended primarily by people from the UK and the US. Overall, the conference was amazing but odd: the days were super long (often started at 9:15 but the programme didn’t end until around 20:30) but simultaneously versatile and interesting. Something that was weird until the last day though, was the timings: why did the day start at 9:15 rather than 9:00?

With her opening keynote, May-Len Skilbrei (University of Oslo) talked about Sexual politics in motion: The role of prostitution policy in ‘the European’. It was a bit much for me as I’m not used to listening to 1.5h lectures about european policy, but it was very informative.

The keynote that impressed me the most however was on the second day. Kimberly Kay Hoang from the University of Chicago talked about some of the work she conducted for her book titled Dealing in Desire: Asian Ascendancy, Western Decline, and the Hidden Currencies of Global Sex Work. Her talk was fantastic – it’s not an area I’m particularly familiar with, and I generally shy away from economicsy-type work (I’ve gotten better, but I still shudder a little when I see something’s from an economics journal or publisher), but Kimberly’s talk was amazing. She talked about the ethnographic work she had done over many years, and talked very candidly about her experiences. The book’s already on my ‘absolutely must read’ list.

The last day’s Keynote was from Scott Cunningham (Baylor University) discussing Technology, Regulation and Public Health. This talk was very confusing for me to listen to. It was very heavily economics focused, but that part was explained quite well. I see the value in doing this kind of work, and I understand that policy makers like seeing numbers as opposed to small-scale interview studies and surveys, but there really is no need to be as insensitive as some of this talk was. In a funny roundabout way this talk made me think more seriously about ethics and responsibility in big data. This talk had lots of people riled up, but also had lots of people curious about ‘big data’, ‘web scraping’, and sex work policy…

What I can perhaps take away from the conference is that my work doesn’t fit in perfectly (it’s more about support services than sex work policy), but it has it’s place. and that it makes sense to people from the social sciences and humanities. That’s what I was perhaps most worried about – that my work just wouldn’t fit in and make any sense in relation to the rest of the conference. But I no longer need to worry about that! It was fantastic to be at such an interdisciplinary conference; to meet so many amazing people, and to be able to share the work I’ve been doing with a new group of people.

Being there and talking to others about their work and my work really made appreciate the beauty of interdisciplinarity once again. It really is a beautiful thing!

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