Galatea's uprising: Activism in the United States sex workers' rights movement

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)




Marjorie L. DeVault


Activism, Sex workers' rights movement, Arizona, Gendered work

Subject Categories

Gender and Sexuality | Politics and Social Change


This dissertation is a participant observation study of a small group of relatively privileged middle class activists in the sex workers' rights movement in Tucson, AZ. Sex worker activism draws from and depends upon a strong sense of community among industry workers and supportive people. This community helps create a place for new members to come out as workers, claim a politicized sex worker identity, and participate in local activism. Activism is usually carnivalesque in form to appeal to a wide range of audiences, but some is also more civic oriented as movement members attempt to influence public policy in favor of decriminalizing prostitution. One tactic employed is the creation of a number of discourses invoking human and worker rights for workers in the commercial sex industry. While effective only in very limited ways, members continue the sex-positive, playful activism characteristic of this movement perhaps because a sense of community is so important to them. This study draws attention to an important voice---that of a group of sex workers themselves---often missing from public debates surrounding commercial sex work.


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