SWRH PGR Conference

On the 20th of January Teela Sanders hosted the 5th annual sex work research hub postgraduate conference at Leicester University. After hearing only fantastic things about the previous conferences, I took it upon myself to travel the three hours to Leicester on the train to see for myself whether it really was as safe, comfortable, and supportive a space as I was told it would be.

Arriving a few minutes late, sadly I missed Teela’s welcome to the whole day, but I was able to slip in half way through the first presentation. I snuck into the back of the room, quietly dropped my bags, sat down and listened. I was immediately taken by Anastasia’s analysis of home and belonging among Russian-speaking women engaged in commercial sex in Finland.

As the day continued, and the first round of questions came around after the first three papers, I began to understand why everyone who’s been to this event before spoke so fondly of it! As the day went on and more and more questions were asked and answered, the sense of support and camaraderie in the room almost became tangible. Both PGR students and seasoned academics not only looked interested in what was being presented, but asked intriguing questions and shared their supportive and informative comments and remarks.

I’ve gone to my fair share of conferences, PGR, academic, non-academic, and I’ve never felt so safe; I’ve never felt so welcomed; and I’ve never experienced such interest about not only my research, but all the research that was being presented throughout the day.

Something that really struck out at me about the conference besides the support and mentorship, was the diversity in the room. It was great to see such an international delegation of attendants providing questions from so many different schools of thought, disciplines, and nationalities. Presenters attended not only from many corners of the UK, but also from University of Helsinki and the University of Milan (I’m not even going to try to count how many nationalities were in the room!).

The different paper sessions also ranged in topics: covering relationships and sex work; power, marginalisation and stigma; labour, rights and regulation; diversity in sex work; and the arts and sex work. We were also lucky to have a surprise treat from Alex from the Sex Worker Opera!

I didn’t really know what to expect from the day, and was very pleasantly surprised! It was great to hear so many people address technologies as part of their research; to hear that even when not directly asked about technologies that participants share stories of their use of apps, websites, and other technologies. It made me feel like my work fits in with the wider context. It gave me some confidence in what I am doing, and pushed me to continue doing the work that I do.

At the end of the day, I learnt so much about sex work research and finally met some people I had heard so much about before going. It was a fantastic opportunity to get to know some other PhD students doing sex work research, and to hear about their work. At the same time, it was great to have the support from all those present at the event, and to be able to share thoughts and ideas.

Anyway, enough of my raving about the conference! Here’s what I talked about:

Technologies and Social Justice Outcomes in Sex Work Charities: Fighting Stigma, Saving Lives

Human Computer Interaction (HCI) is a field dedicated to the study of digital technologies and the ways in which humans interact with them. Recently, HCI has started to move towards methodologies inspired by feminisms, participatory design, and social justice-oriented interaction design and have taken steps towards developing technologies in, with, and for social justice movements. Since sex workers’ rights are human rights, and as such are an issue inherently based in social, criminal, and political justice debates, I argue that HCI has a unique opportunity in this space to design methodologies and digital technologies.

As HCI continues to move towards feminist and social justice oriented research and design approaches, I explore how technology can and does mediate social justice outcomes for sex workers. I address this challenge directly by providing an empirical account of a charity whose work is built on the underlying move towards social and criminal justice for sex workers in the UK: National Ugly Mugs (NUM). Through ethnographic fieldwork, meetings, interviews, surveys, and creative workshops we describe the different points of view associated with NUM from a variety of stakeholders. We discuss their service provision and the ways in which HCI is uniquely positioned to be able respond to support NUM and other sex work support services.

This talk was based on some of the work I’ve done with National Ugly Mugs over the last year of my PhD.

If you want to know more about the things I’ve talked about, I’ve got a paper coming out in May, published and open access in the ACM’s digital library (dl.acm.org).


(parts of this will be published in the next Sex Work Research Hub newsletter)