on recession, prostitution and biopower

by oskar gudehn

.1) So even if Swedish economy has recuperated rather well since 2008, the road ahead is bumpy. Swedish economy is at large based on a high export, and state economy inequality (such as caused by the Euro Crisis) has a negative impact on Swedish export and thereby on Swedish economy, employment rate etc. etc.

This follows basic macro-economy; further could be said that this is a classic Capitalist narrative, where nation-wide economy is described as a self-organising, self-controlling entity. I have no objections at large; what is interesting is not the entity on its own, but the two-way inter-dependancy of macro-economy and the parts, us, constituting it.

.2) The gap between wages and profit has widened considerably during the last 30 years. Instead of ending up in the employees’ wallets, it has gone to corporation profit and investments. Richard Murphy argues this to be the main reason for the ongoing recession; quoting Murphy “So that’s it in a nutshell: the recession was caused by not paying people enough for what they did.”

.3) Rental cars in Sierra Leone is provided by a (at least formerly) small scale entrepreneur. Apparently large car rental corporations, as Avis, have not dared to move in to the war-torn country. The concept of the business is security. Whenever the car breaks down a new car is sent to your location. In order to provide security the business has invested in a storehouse of spare parts and its own mechanic.

.4) Prostitution is often regarded as a highly harmful occupation. Suicide rates, drug abuse, child abuse, shortened life expectancy etc. are some of the factors strongly correlating with prostitution. Ole Martin Moen however argues the same to have been true for homosexuality far into the 20th century. People opposed to homosexuality (during e.g. the 20’s) argued the short life expectancy, the amounts of drug abuse and increasing venereal diseases (which all correlated to homosexuality) to be reasons enough to prove it as harmful and should therefor forbidden.

In the case of homosexuality, most issues (e.g. high suicide rates) were derived from the social stigma connected to being gay and not the the sexual orientation itself. Maybe this is true for prostitution as well? Maybe it is not the prostitution itself that is harmful, but the way we relate to it, condemn it, stigmatise it.

I have however one large objection to Moen’s argument. Nowhere in the paper is prostitution discussed as a part of a system. If we believe Moen’s argument to be sound prostitution is not per say harmful for the individual, but is it harmful for the society? Mainly women are prostitutes, mainly men are the buyers (just as in porn (though I have a feeling porn is (very slowly) getting more “equal”)). Legalising prostitution (and making it more socially accepted) might improve the situation for prostitutes, but would it at the same time conserve gender inequalities in society?

.5) Biopower is a term coined by Michel Foucault. Basically, it is power (in its social sense) used to command bodies, thereby being a tool for controlling other people. It is a tool to manage the bodies of the population, in contrast to “Discipline” which is a tool for making people behave. Foucault even describes as a “technology of power”; a (social) invention creating (/manufacturing?) subjugation of bodies.

In it’s most strict sense biopower is related to physical/biological aspects; birth, death, health, sexuality, life. Maybe it can be further expanded to basically include the control of ones body, how we relate to our own and others’ bodies, how we move and act in space. If biopower is a single ordering rule, biopolitics is the network or system of power, the formal and informal legislation of our physical bodies.

Foucault is one of the most often name dropped philosophers in Architecture/Urban Studies. A (sloppy) description as to why: architecture can be described as a knowledge of space, space is used/understood through movement and action, movement/action requires a body. Our relation to space is thus effected by our relation to our own body. Formal and informal regulations (based on legislation/society/social contracts) control how we move and act. By critically examining and redefining these regulations we change our relation to our bodies and thereby our relation to space.


Movement and reliability are key issues, both in terms of economy and politics. Rental services providing the reliability of movement are succeeding; the international market can not provide the reliability of movement of goods for the Swedish industry which thereby is in decline.

The movement of prostitutes has always been an issue for control. One of the main arguments for legalising prostitution is “in order to control it”. Red Light Districts to keep it maintained, STD control and condom-laws for public health etc. More seriously, even with liberal legislation the social stigmatisation of prostitution controls where and how sex is sold and how people involved are able to move or act. For some reason, porn is much more socially accepted, where an actresses can become porn stars.

The connection between biopower/biopolitics and prostitution might be one of the most obvious ones (one of Foucault’s major works is “The History of Sexuality” from 1976).

I’m further curious about how prostitution and economic backlash are related. Is sex a stable market or does lower general wages decrease the amount of money spent on sex? Apparently the recession has “forced” more women into prostitution. The Buckingham Post article describes the women as having no qualms (or enjoying) their occupation. At the same time trafficking and bottom scale (illegal) prostitution increases. Increased risk taking is one way to compete (e.g. moving into more dangerous markets or geographical areas). In car rental services this might be okay, but what happens in the field of prostitution?

Is this what happens with increasing supply (combined with decreasing purchasing power)? Price dumping? Increasing illegal (and poorly controlled) markets? And does biopolitical control (through legalisation) actually make any difference for the emancipation of women or is it simply adding further control mechanisms to an already existing systematic mistreatment and gender inequality?

The issue can further be expanded to deal with the biopolitical tool of (National) borders. One of the most insecure and shady sides of prostitution (and human abuse) is trafficking, directly connected to the immobility for most people over national borders. So in order to come to terms with trafficking, deregulating border control might be more direct and efficient than regulating prostitution.