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Sex at the Margins: Migration, Labour Markets and the Rescue Industry Paperback – August 7, 2007
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""Sex at the Margins" rips apart distinctions between migrants, service work and sexual labour and reveals the utter complexity of the contemporary sex industry. This book is set to be a trailblazer in the study of sexuality." -- Lisa Adkins, Goldsmiths, University of London
"In restoring those living on the fringes of western societies to their full humanity, this invigorating book undermines our stereotypes and provides a challenging but unforgettable picture." -- Jeffrey Weeks, London South Bank University
""Sex at the Margins" elegantly demonstrates that what happens to poor immigrant working women from the Global South when they 'leave home for sex' is neither a tragedy nor the panacea of finding the promised land. Above all, Agustin shows that the moralizing bent of most government and NGO programs have little to do with these women's experiences and wishes. This book questions some of our most cherished modern assumptions, and shows that a different ethics of concern is possible." -- Arturo Escobar, University of North Carolina
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Agustín's work has become a classic in the fields of sex work and immigration studies. It is safe to say that no book has irritated or inspired more people in the anti-trafficking field than this one.
And because Laura has snarked about "classic" in her comments below, let me define that word.
1) When someone comes up to me and says "I am interested in learning about trafficking. Where should I start reading?", this book is the first thing that springs to mind.
2) It goes against the grain of the received wisdom of the times and yet hits its subject matter square on, in such a way that you'll never be able to hear someone say "trafficking" again without thinking of it, whether or not you agree with Agustin.
3) Because so much of the subject matter is absolutely contaminated by moral panic and bulls*** in other books -- even well-meaning academic books -- but is not contaminated HERE, people are still going to be reading this a century from now and saying "Yes!" when 99.9% of what is now written about so-called trafficking will read like Victorian screeds against masturbation do today.
They best comparison I can make is with Emma Goldman's classic (I do not use this term lightly or ironically) 1910 dissection of that generation's anti-trafficking panic. You can still read that today and nod your head while reading most of what passed for highly wise and popular portrayals of "trafficking" at the time will strike you now as being so much moralistic and hypocritical blather.
Like Goldman, Augustin is not well received by the powers-that-be of her times. Like Goldman, she is often unpopular, not the least among people who should consider her to be their ally. Like Goldman, she speaks truth to power, backed up by a rapier-sharp wit and a deep intersectional analysis. This is why the book is called a "cult classic" today.
That will be shortened to simply "classic" in, oh, say, ten-twenty years. I'm just getting in on the ground floor.
For those who don't have the slightest clue of what I'm talking about, but who are worried about the "scourge of human trafficking", read this and have your mind blown!
Augustin does a great job in punching through the thick accretion of myth that has built up around the subject through a combination of ethnographic interviews and reviews of literature. Her discussion of the "rescue industry" is devastating, showing that much of its statistical basis is either created from whole cloth or interpolated from inadequate or biased samples.
This is social science with a very welcome edge.
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