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Dialectics of Sex Worker Politics: Why Political Legality is Not Enough

The Canadian Supreme Court recently struck down the anti-prostitution laws of the country. This sound legal decision provides an occasion for a deeper discussion of the dynamics of sex worker politics. In particular, it allows for a dialectical or contextual left-libertaian analysis. Chris Matthew Sciabarra ably describes dialectics as:

“Dialectics is the art of context-keeping. It is a thinking style that emphasizes the centrality of context in the analysis of systems across time. As applied to libertarian social theory, it counsels us not to disconnect politics from economics, culture, social psychology, ethics, epistemology, and other factors. It views these seemingly disparate aspects as interrelated within a wider totality. Hence, any attempt to understand–or change–society must entail an analysis of its interrelations from the vantage point of any single aspect. This brings forth an enriched portrait of society, and underscores the indivisible connection between theory and practice.”

This brief exploration follows in his footsteps.

Contextually speaking, political legality is important, but it doesn’t exhaust all the factors necessary for sex worker liberation. There is still the necessity of addressing the economic and cultural levels of analysis. Both of which help to provide us with a broader more systemic view of the issue at hand. Without this broader context we risk losing sight of the total picture. This comprehensive picture allows us to grasp the interconnections spoken of by Sciabarra above.

Economically speaking, the mere political legality of sex work matters not without assurances that property owners will not discriminate against sex workers. It also matters not without sex workers receiving a comfortable share of the economic pie. It’s certainly true that the absence of coercive political penalties by the government assists in this, but it isn’t the end of relevant analysis. Private property owners could still use control of economic resources to deny access to sex workers. This is still true with formal legality.

Our final level of analysis is the cultural. In the absence of a sex worker friendly culture, formal legality could be rendered irrelevant by the restrictions of oppressive social mores. This would lead to the economic discrimination mentioned above and induce agitation to restore the laws on the political level. All the more reason to wage an interrelated struggle for sex worker liberation. These three levels of analysis are preferably dealt with simultaneously.