Sex Work, Urban Governance and the Gendering of Cities

Authored by: Phil Hubbard

The Routledge Research Companion to Geographies of Sex and Sexualities

Print publication date:  May  2016
Online publication date:  May  2016

Print ISBN: 9781472455482
eBook ISBN: 9781315613000
Adobe ISBN: 9781317043331


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While the buying and selling of sex has never been a solely urban phenomenon, it has arguably been most visible in ‘red-light’ districts – for example, De Wallen in Amsterdam, Soho in London, the Reeperbahn in Hamburg, King’s Cross in Sydney, Pigalle in Paris and Patpong in Bangkok (Hubbard and Whowell, 2008; Ryder, 2004). In most cases, these ‘hot districts’ are particularly associated with street or window prostitution by female or trans workers. In some instances, they are also home to commercial sex in the form of ‘adult-oriented’ businesses, ‘gentleman’s clubs’, sex shops, massage parlours, theatres and peep shows. Geographical literature concludes that this clustering is not simply a simple response to (economic) patterns of supply and demand, but is also shaped by the moral codes, legal strictures and police strategies that push sex work towards particular spaces (see especially Symanski, 1981; Hubbard, 1998; Howell, 2009). It is, in effect, the outcome of a social production of space that involves the entwining of dominant representations of red-light districts (as sites of ‘irregular’ or even ‘perverse’ sexuality) with the spatial practices of a variety of actors, including sex workers, clients, police, outreach workers, city bureaucrats, residents, businesses and so on (Hubbard and Sanders, 2003; Mathieu, 2011; Kingston, 2013). This produces the distinctive choreography of many red-light districts, typified by particular rhythms of inhabitation, tactical ways of looking and being, and the creation of sights and sounds that might be viewed as ‘out of place’ elsewhere in increasingly sanitized cities (Aalbers, 2005; Cook and Whowell, 2011; Weitzer, 2014).

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