Social Reproduction

I started work on social reproduction several years ago when I sought to investigate the regulation of sex work in India. The late 1990s were an extraordinarily exciting time for sex worker mobilization in India. Sex workers groups were being formed all over the country and the Kolkata-based Durbar Mahila Samanwaya Committee was hosting conferences in stadia attended by sex workers from around the world! I was inspired by Sonagachi’s sex workers who were reading Alexandra Kollontai, the socialist feminist and shaping themselves as organic intellectuals who believed that sex work was a form of reproductive labour. I embraced materialist feminist theory (although materialist feminists hardly thought of sex work as legitimate work) to articulate an alternative to the influential radical feminist characterisation of sex work as violence and the sex positive feminist presentation of sex work as representing women’s agency. Instead I investigated the political economy of sex work in India’s red-light areas and in street-based sex work to show how a postcolonial materialist feminist theory of sex work would have a different political and regulatory agenda than conventional sex work politics allow for. Several publications have followed as listed below. I have since written on other forms of reproductive labour including bar dancing and commercial surrogacy. I am now working on an ERC funded project called the Laws of Social Reproduction that proposes a materialist feminist theory in relation to five sectors of women’s work: sex work, dancing, commercial surrogacy, paid domestic work and unpaid domestic work.

See pages on Laws of Social Reproduction, Sex Work and Bar Dancing for publications on each theme.