Agustin’s now eight-year old book, Sex at the Margins: Migration, Labour Markets and the Rescue Industry is perhaps better read as three different angles on the same subject rather than as a unified thesis. The first section is an attempt to critique popular conceptions of sex work as different from other forms of work, or migration as wholly distinct from tourism; the second section offers a genealogical argument of the ‘origins’ of the contemporary social (helper) sector through the enlightenment and industrial revolutionary periods. This leads into the final section: a criticism of the employees of contemporary NGOs that focus on prostitution and human trafficking.
In a rough attempt to unify these three themes, Agustin’s analysis is that contemporary conceptions and policies regarding prostitution serve the interests of state power as well as the individual egos of those who identify with the cause to ‘rescue’ sex workers. The former, which is little developed in the book, is about sovereignty and population ‘control’, the latter is about self-esteem and the exercise of agency of those who find their purpose in helping others. The irony, Agustin argues, is that these helpers achieve their goals but oppress those they (think) they are helping. Continue reading