As a social anthropologist I find people fascinating. Or, at least that’s my excuse for the unashamed staring at people and the blatant eavesdropping into other people’s conversations. But I seriously do love to observe and to wonder – to wonder who people are, what they are up to, why they are doing what they are doing and, what stories exist in the depths of their pockets and woven through the hems of their shirts. Such an interest (or obsession) is also really useful when it comes to the research that I do.
I have started this blog as a way to document, reflect on and explore my work as a postdoctoral researcher with the Migration and Health Project (maHp) Southern Africa (https://mahpsa.org/) at the African centre for Migration and Society (ACMS). For the past few years I have been working with internal and cross-border migrant women who sell sex in Johannesburg (some call themselves “sex workers”, others for various reasons choose not to). And more recently I have focused more on exploring the experiences of mothers who sell sex – the kinds of challenges they face, how the combine sex work and parenting, how they negotiate the judgement and moralisation of others etc, what they think of motherhood and how interventions (particularly in healthcare) need to be better shaped to meet their needs as mothers, as migrants and as women who sell sex. In trying to better understand the challenges that are encountered and experienced in the urban spaces of the city I also hope to support the overall aim of sex workers in South Africa to fight for the decriminalisation of sex work. The fight for decriminalisation is a fight for a legal model that allows sex workers to work with respect and protection – and with recognition of their basic human rights – which currently are being violated on a daily basis.
So here I hope to bring together my interest in people, in stories, and in writing with a recognition of the urgent need to support sex workers in their everyday battle for their rights. Not least because decriminalisation will ensure better access to healthcare. Moreover, I hope to reflect on the process of research – on the many ethical and moral challenges that arise in “doing” research on/about other people and, on the complications (and sometimes contradictions) of supporting sex workers call of “nothing about us without us” while also working within the remits of funded proposals and academic requirements.
This blog is also because I like writing – and these days I just don’t get enough time to do so beyond the confines of academic abstracts and papers – so I hope I can use this space here to think a bit differently and explore thoughts, reflections, ideas and challenges I face in the research process.
NB: Beautiful images and photos used in the blog are by my talented sister Rachel Walker: http://rachwalkerart.com