Faculty Publications


Listening to the language of sexworkers: An analysis of street sexworker representations and their effects on sexworkers and society.

SelectedWorks Author Profiles:

Jill McCracken

Document Type


Publication Date


Date Issued

January 2007

Date Available

July 2014


This dissertation argues that the material conditions of many street sex workers—the physical environments they live in and their effects on the workers’ bodies, identities, and spirits—are represented, reproduced, and entrenched in the language surrounding their work. My research is an ethnographic case study of a local system that can be extrapolated to other subcultures and the construction of identities, while situating sex work and the industry as rhetorical constructions. My research offers an example of how an examination of the signs and symbols that comprise “material conditions” can be rhetorically analyzed in order to better understand how goals, agendas, interests, and ideologies are represented and implemented through language. Located central to my analysis are the street sex workers’ voices. I use an ideological rhetorical analysis, or rhetorically—the study of how language shapes and is shaped by cultures, institutions, and the individuals within them, and ideologically—the identification and examination of the underlying assumptions of communicative interactions. I delineate how these material conditions are reproduced and, at times, subverted, and I offer an outline for modifying the discourse used in policy in ways that are more empowering and authentic to sex workers’ lives. Policy makers, activists, and academics, among others, wrestle with complicated issues to analyze and write laws and policies and to design social services. Discourse is always at the center of these struggles. Because my study investigates the language of policy-making and the people who forge it, it has implications for ethics and policy in relation to gender studies, cultural studies, and ethnographic research. Examining the rhetorical constructions and interactions and their related effects on policy elucidates the discursive complexity that exists in meaning-making systems. This analysis also offers an explanation of how constructions can be made differently in order to achieve representations that are generated by the marginalized populations themselves, while placing responsibility for this marginalization on the society in which these people live.


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