Conventional sex work research has tended to pathologize women in the sex industry by studying them as victims who lack the ability to make informed decisions about their lives and their work. Radical feminist research in particular has been successful in affecting public discourses, policy debates, and research agendas in this regard. While sex workers themselves contradict and critique conventional social science and radical feminist research, rarely are their voices heard and rarely have they been included in research processes. Given this context, it is not uncommon for sex workers to refuse to engage in research studies unless they are members of the research team. Action research philosophies and practices, therefore, are particularly relevant and important in supporting a growing wave of sex work research that has been endorsed, influenced, and supported by sex working communities. This article draws on my experiences conducting a research project with a Canadian sex workers’ rights organization to demonstrate to how participatory research methods can work to build bridges, dismantle barriers, and establish new relationships of trust and support between feminists and sex workers. Ultimately, I argue in favor of the fundamental importance of action research moving from research on sex workers to research with sex workers.
Emily van der Meulen