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Kotiswaran, Prabha (2010) 'Labours in Vice or Virtue? Neo-Liberalism, Sexual Commerce and the Case of Indian Bar Dancing.' Journal of Law and Society, 37 (1). pp. 105-124.

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Of late, the Indian state has adopted an abolitionist stance towards two forms of female commercial sexual labour- sex work and bar dancing. While the literature on sex work is burgeoning, bar dancing has received little scholarly consideration. This article focuses on bar dancing and argues that although the judicial overturning of the ban against bar dancing in the Indian state of Maharashtra has been celebrated by feminists as a triumph of women’s right to livelihood over patriarchal demands of women’s sexual morality, the judgment is predicated precisely on a sharp distinction between morally ‘good’ and ‘bad’ female labour, namely, bar dancing and sex work, respectively. This is ironic given the striking sociological similarities between the two sectors, the social construction of the stigmatised sexual labour performed therein and the levels of state abuse inflicted against both sets of sexual workers. The article considers the usefulness of contemporary Western feminist vocabularies on the proliferation of sexual commerce under conditions of late capitalism in order to explain the increased tolerance for bar dancing on the part of both the judiciary and certain sections of the Indian feminist community. The article surmises that such tolerance in the Indian context has less to do with the totalising logic of neo-liberalism than a range of disparate factors including the distinct political economies of abolitionism pertaining to both bar dancing and sex work and the modes of resistance that female workers have offered in response. Consequently, the article argues that prospects for redistributive law reform for all sexual workers are dim unless the arbitrary legal distinctions drawn between markets in female sexual labour are overcome and such markets are viewed as occupying a continuum of female labour rather than reflecting particularized forms.

Item Type: Journal Article
SOAS Departments & Centres: Legacy Departments > Faculty of Law and Social Sciences > School of Law
ISSN: 0263323X
DOI (Digital Object Identifier):
Date Deposited: 10 Sep 2009 12:35

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