A linguistic ethnographic approach to identity construction in in sex workers' narratives in England and Greece

Lead Research Organisation: King's College London
Department Name: Education,Communication & Society


Most sex workers' needs remain unmet as violence, hate crimes, discrimination and social exclusion
are among the problems they still face globally (Global Network of Sex Work Projects [NSWP], 2017).
The majority of relevant legal frameworks, if not criminalising sex workers and the offer of paid sexual
services, criminalise either the involvement of third-parties or clients. Among others, these policies
greatly draw on what could be broadly described as a debate between anti-sex-work and pro-sex-work
scholars, where the former view sex work as a harmful cultural practice constituting a form of violence
(Jeffreys, 2008) while the latter, eschewing traditional, moral understandings of sexuality, view it as a
legitimate work. In England, while "policing and enforcement of prostitution is unevenly prioritised and
resourced throughout the country", the sale/purchase of sexual services between consenting adults is
legal but various prostitution related activities (e.g. soliciting) are illegal (All-Party Parliamentary Group
on Prostitution and the Global Sex Trade [APPG], 2014). Similarly, in Greece, sex work is regulated by
laws that no longer address the needs of the era and stigmatise sex workers (International Committee
on the Rights of Sex Workers in Europe [ICRSE], 2017), rendering it another interesting site for the
study of sex work.

To date, only a few studies have focused on sex workers' identity construction (Benoit et al., 2018;
Chowdhury, 2006; Oliveira, 2017; Read, 2013), largely disregarding the mutually constitutive
relationship between language and society (Fairclough, 2013). Given that social identities are
extensively (re)produced in language in its contextual use and its interactions with other semiotic modes (e.g. paralanguage, embodiment) (Koller, 2012), an in-depth analysis of discourse produced by
sex workers can not only deconstruct stereotypes about them but also reveal a great deal about their
identities and how such identities emerge, function and are embedded in interaction. Such an
exploration can also offer an alternative to the more prevalent, sociological, psychological and clinical
approaches to sex work, which focus predominantly on the factors driving entrance to sex work, its
relationship with health and the levels of exclusion (Balfour & Allen, 2014).
In view of the above, my aim in my thesis is to contribute to the linguistic and social scientific
knowledge on sex workers' identity by following a linguistic ethnographic approach to examine how sex
work is discursively represented and understood in sex workers' own accounts. My PhD aims to address the following research question and sub-questions:
How do sex workers in England and Greece talk about sex work and how do they present themselves
in relation to it?
a) How do sex workers' gender and sexual identity affect their way of representing sex work?
b) How and to what extent are sex workers' attitudes towards their job affected by clientèle and
c) How do sex workers in England and in Greece talk about the legal frameworks regulating sex work in
their country?

d) What aspects of the legal frameworks concerning sex work in Greece and in England are mentioned
in sex workers' narratives and how are they described, evaluated and made sense of


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Studentship Projects

Project Reference Relationship Related To Start End Student Name
ES/P000703/1 30/09/2017 29/09/2027
2307461 Studentship ES/P000703/1 30/09/2019 30/05/2023 Christos Sagredos