SEX WORK ACTIVISM AND STRATEGIC TELEPHONY SYSTEMS
Alexandra Jönssen & Clifford Hammett
We work with socially and legally restricted groups and speculative self-sustaining media interventions. In our research project X-MSG, we have specifically worked on how experiments with free/open source mobile phone technology can operate as enabling political interventions in the sex industry. In collaboration with a sex worker workers co- operative we have developed a series of SMS based mobile telephony networks to be utilised by sex workers in the UK. We wish to present the crux of our research problematics and their political relevance
CRITICAL RESEARCH METHODOLOGIES AND MICRO POLITICS OF TECHNICAL NETWORKS
X-MSG is our ongoing practical research project currently running in its seventh month. We investigate the structures of confinement in the sex industry and in commercial software by building technical systems to intervene in the ecologies and channels that affect women in the sex industry. These systems can at once disrupt structures that confine working women and enable them to surpass those same structures. Our practice utilises social and collaborative aesthetics as all our technical experiments with free/open source telephony software are based on the collaboration and exchange of knowledge with the women working in the industry. In that way our collaborative methodologies allows for peer-to-peer support within the sex industry facilitated by alternative and creative ways of thinking through mobile telephony. The social and technical nature of telephony networks allows for network formations and distribution systems to operate and surpass major channels of monitoring and surveillance. In our research, instead of focusing on representative politics targeted outside the sex industry, we investigate the micropolitics of these systems at work within the industry.
RESEARCH OUTCOMES: TECHNICAL AND SOCIAL POLITICS
In X-MSG, the core research problems centre around an investigation of social technologies and fabrications of technical systems to surpass power structures that confine the lives of women working in the sex industry. This is achieved by critically implementing the social and confidential knowledge of sex workers in the technical systems and experiments created. In such a manner, these systems can sustain movements of peer-to-peer support and empowerment already at work between migrant groups, mothers, students - the ethnically and culturally diverse women who all share the social and legal stigma as sex workers.
At the same time, once the technical systems are deployed, they take on their own lives. Defying the ideologies that we might have envisioned, the system stretches and mutates in its constant negotiation with the user. Here the politics of the system is revealed and from this we analyse and negotiate further experiments. These experiments with free media hardware, free/open source software and public telephony networks also inform us about the structuring of these materialities, which incorporate and create cultural norms specific to the corporate western knowledge worker and at odds with sex work activism. However, we take pleasure in finding new methods to rewire these technologies