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March 15, 2016

Sex Work to Receive Platform at AAG Annual Conference

LOS ANGELES—Australian academic Paul Maginn will lead a special session on sex work at the Association of American Geographers conference starting March 29 in San Francisco. The AAG Annual Meeting, which will continue through April 2 at the Hilton San Francisco Union Square, will host more than 7,000 geographers from around the world and feature more than 6,600 presentations from leading researchers in various fields of study. The session is set to explore a range of topics including sex work/prostitution, adult entertainment/porn, adult retailing and BDSM. “The breadth of topics and issues being discussed is really useful in that it’s highlighting all different forms of sex work and how they’re resisting and meeting the challenges from above,” Maginn told AVN. “We wanted a diversity of topics that speak to how sex work is, as opposed to the misinformation and how it’s perceived in wider society. These presenters are going to bring light to issues around porn, sex work, prostitution and BDSM. There’s still stereotypes for all forms of sex work and our job is try to use evidence to start dispel those myths and stereotypes.”  Maginn in recent years has become a prolific researcher of the geography of sex work. He co-edited the 2015 book “(Sub)Urban Sexscapes” along with Christine Steinmetz based on the special session he attended at the 2012 AAG Annual Meeting in New York. In Maginn’s initial call for papers to present in San Francisco, the associate professor of Urban and Regional Planning at the University of Western Australia in Perth welcomed submissions from scholars and research-minded sex workers, activists and performers as well as those who campaign against the sex industry. He convened a similar special session last year at the AAG Annual Meeting in Chicago. This time, however, the series of papers has “a harder political edge,” Maginn noted. “And that’s kind of reflective in the overall theme, but it’s particularly reflective in that we have more sex workers involved this year,” Maginn said from his office in Perth. “I think part of our mission as academics who do work on the sex industry is to provide space and opportunity as best we can for the people we are researching to also participate in that dialogue.” The meaty program will include five sessions with 20 papers to be presented by established academics such as Clarissa Smith, the co-editor of the journal “Porn Studies” from the U.K.-based University of Sunderland; and Barb Brents, a sociology professor at the University of Nevada-Las Vegas.  Each of the five Paper Sessions has the theme “Sex and the City: Reactionism, Resistance and Revolt” with individual sub-themes. Maginn will be the chairman for Session 1, which is subtitled “Performance, Production & Politics”; and Session 5, “Spaces of Empowerment and Social Inclusion.” He once again is teaming with Emily Cooper, a lecturer in Human Geography at England's Northumbria University who co-convened the special session on sex work at AAG Chicago. Cooper will chair the Paper Session 2 titled “Sex and the City: Reactionism, Resistance and Revolt II - Sex Worker Voices: Encountering Consumption and Mobilities”; and Session 5 subtitled “Spaces of Empowerment and Social Inclusion.” Cooper also joined Maginn to present her research at the Policy & Politics Conference in Bristol, England, in September. Clarissa Smith, meanwhile, will chair Session 3, “Otherness, Transgression & Normalization.” Maginn is slated to present his own paper during the third session, discussing “Orgasmic Geographies: The Socio-spatial Distribution and Cultural Significance of Sex Toys in Australia.” He co-authored the piece with Alistair Sisson, a Ph.D. candidate at the University of Sydney. The paper is based on research they conducted on the geography of sales of adult products in Australia from two retailers, SexToys24/7, an online store, and Lovehoney, the U.K.’s largest sex toy retailer/distributor.  “I have managed to negotiate with Lovehoney access to their sales data (all anonymized) to look at the spatial patterns of sales in Australia with the aim to then move onto looking at things in the U.K. and the U.S., where they also have a presence,” Maginn said.  At press time Maginn and Sisson were still analyzing the Lovehoney data.  “What both sets of data are showing is a significant portion of orders from those two companies are going to what we call regional Australia—rural areas basically,” Maginn added. “In terms of products, male masturbators are very popular. Fleshlights, for example.” Session 3 will also feature a presentation by Erin Sanders-McDonagh, a senior lecturer in Sociology and co-director of the Centre for Social and Criminological Research at Middlesex University in London. Her paper is titled “Mapping transgression/gentrification: Lights of Soho.” She also presented at AAG Chicago and at Policy & Politics last year.  Zahra Stardust, a queer performer who is pursuing her Ph.D. at the University of New South Wales, and Cinnamon Maxxine, a performer and local activist in San Francisco, will join the presenter lineup as well along with Christina Parreira, a veteran cam girl and Ph.D student at UNLV who also presented at AAG last year. Stardust’s paper is titled “Queer feminist pornography as a social movement: Protest, resistance and radical politics.”  “Zahra is a really interesting one,” Maginn said, adding that she will discuss “how she navigates through social and political structures as a queer performer and the challenges they have to negotiate.” He continued, “We have a number of sex workers presenting and some of them are out and some of them aren’t fully out and I don’t want to expose who they are. But I think again that’s very telling that these aren’t fallen women; these are strong, intelligent women who know what they’re doing.” In a bit a coup, Maginn said the group secured a grant from AAG’s Enrichment Fund to cover the registration fee for Maxxine to take part in the conference.  “Competition for these grants is intense,” Maginn said. It’s the second year the sex work special session received a grant from AAG, following the two it secured last year, he noted. In short, Maginn suggested presenting these papers extends beyond sharing critical analysis in front of an international gathering.  “We hope that we will break down stereotypes that sex workers aren’t just sex workers, they are much more than that,” he said. “They have interesting stories as to who they are, why they do what they do and the struggles they face.” 

 
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