Book Review- Dr Angela Jones ‘Camming’
I have spent 20 years in and around the sex industry and never tire of reading the new research. Dr Angela Jones is a U.S based scholar and activist, her book Camming: Money, Power and Pleasure in the Sex Work Industry is published by New York University Press.
Power of autoethnography
“Those who advocate and insist on canonical forms of doing and writing research are advocating a White, masculine, heterosexual, middle/upper-class, Christian, able-bodied perspective. Following these conventions, a researcher not only disregards other ways of knowing but also implies that other ways of knowing are unsatisfactory and invalid. Autoethnography on the other hand, expands and opens up a wider lens on the world, eschewing rigid definitions of what constitutes meaningful and useful research” (Ellis, Adams and Boschner, in Jone, 2020, p.12).
I feel this. My chosen academic trajectory is informed by my positioning as a working-class disabled woman with lived experience of the things I teach and research. We need to widen the raft of accepted knowledge.
Jones calls us to action, in order to “…disrupt various systems of oppression and their institutionalization in academic research” (Jones, 2020, p.11). The introduction makes clear Jones’ commitment to critical pedagogy and ‘progressive stacking’, that is the inclusive practice of presenting the data to place participants’ knowledge in the foreground, making the “deliberate choices to ensure, for example, that the lives of people of colour and trans people are prominent and visible” (Jones, 2020, p. 10).
I have had multiple discussions recently about how performative many claims of inclusive practice are, so this dedication to platforming often silenced voices was invigorating. I welcome Jones’ words: “I push back on what it means to be a scientist and researcher” (Jones, 2020, p.11).
In 2015 I wrote about navigating the stigma between the sex industry and academia. I choose to embrace my identity as a messy, complex woman who happens to work in academia. Jones’ work therefore is invaluable not just on the sex industry, but for anyone studying or wishing to (re)learn about research methodologies.
Digital Economies of Sex Work
This book provides a timely overview of the origins on camming and online sex work, particularly important given the rise in media coverage of platforms such as Only Fans during the Covid-19 pandemic. Jones writes that camming started in 1996 and represented a perforation of domestic and commercial space: “The camming industry moved the strip club into people’s homes” (Jones, 2020, p. 41).
This quotation will be important for my module where we examine the contested spaces of sex work and the discomfort from the sex industry seeping into the domestic sphere.
Jones writes about the perceived authenticity of camming, that clients believe that the acts purchased show ‘real’ pleasure and desire because they can participate in, and effectively shape ,the content of a show. Compare this to the one-sided relationship consumers have with pre-recorded pornography.
Critiquing the affective/corporeal pleasure dualism for its failure to capture the complex and dynamic relationship between affective states and corporeal pleasure. Jones furthers this critique by pointing to the dualisms’ failure to account for the complexity of the social experience and the way in which it shapes and produces pleasure (Jones, 2020, p. 26).
Jones draws on her experiences of being a stripper, and reminds us that pleasure is vital to understanding sex work. I make no secret of valuing lived experience in academic work, and speaking from the research topic, not to or for. We will never change the academy, or society, whilst having a carousel of the same tired, stale voices that merely regurgitate theory at the expense of new ways of knowing.
Pleasure is of course political, and it is telling in society who thinks they are entitled to pleasure, and at whose expense. “Access to social spaces can often be restricted by race, gender, class, sexuality, and so on, this people must create alternative spaces in which to acquire pleasure. The point is, pleasure is a regulatory regime” (Jones, 2020, p. 24).
Often pleasure is removed from discussions around sex work and instead sex workers are positioned as (mostly) women who are coerced, exploited and docile objects in a hideous industry. Whilst we cannot ignore the gross abuses of power and exploitation that are inherently gendered and do exist within the sex industry, we must understand these in the broader landscape of violence against women and marginalized groups. These abuses and rapes do not start within the sex industry. My own students study a ‘Violence and Stigma’ week on my module. We start by situating violence against sex workers within that broader understanding of violence against women, rather that seeing it as a unique and separate entity.
Jones refers to the ‘rescue industry’ and also coins the term ‘moral entrepreneurship’. Jones writes:
“By casting all sex workers as victims, the rescue industry deprives sex workers, particularly poor migrant workers, of dignity, power and agency” (Jones, 2020, p.87).
Jones’ chapter ‘Global motivations to Cam’ will serve as a critical tool for my own students when studying week 6 of my module ‘Migrant Sex Work’. In this unit of the module we interrogate how migrant sex work is often conflated with sex trafficking at the expense of brutal discussions on hostile immigration policies, colonial trade in a globalized economy and how we benefit from exploited peoples in the global south for our cheap goods and services. Migrant sex work is a cognitive short cut for the moralizing we do in order to protect our own consciences. As such, we ignore the varied experiences of sex workers globally.
“By choosing to be cam models, people are trying to escape the drudgery of labour by working fewer hours, while making decent wages in safe, convenient, and boss-free working conditions…These stories cannot be reduced to false consciousness- they take charge of the product and process of labour rather than being subjected to it…” (Jones, 2020, p.102).
Of course, as Jones makes clear, “Camming is a capitalist industry, not an economic utopia” (Jones, 2020, p. 61). It is important that we understand sex work within frameworks of labour, and exploitation as part of that capitalist system, rather than being a unique harm associated with the commercial sex trade.
Sexual racism is an important inclusion of the book, with Jones discussing the sexual capital that white bodies are afforded within the camming industry. “Colour-blind racism maintains racism in general- it operates at a very subtle level and is often buttressed by those who benefit from it” (Jones, 2020, p. 202). This inclusion of sexual racism is a unique selling point of the book, and offers a well-developed sociological framework for understanding race as capital.
This book is a core text for my course, and I recommend it to all teachers and students of the sex industry. I also recommend it to anybody interested in inclusive research methods and different ways of knowing.