Revisiting the red light district: still neglected, immoral and marginal?

2009-03-31T11:42:22Z (GMT) by Phil Hubbard Mary Whowell
Twenty years ago, Ashworth et al (1988) offered a distinctive and innovative interpretation of a neglected aspect of the urban scene: the red-light district. Focusing on the location of female prostitution in a series of Western European cities, their paper suggested that the geographies of sex work are revealing of some of the ‘less obvious’ social and political processes that shape urban space. Here, we revisit Ashworth et al’s paper in the light of subsequent developments in the organisation of commercial sex as well as the study of sexuality and space. Noting important continuities as well as major shifts in the location of sex work, with a significant shift to off-street forms of sex working having occurred, this paper argues that some of the ideas in Ashworth et al’s paper remain highly pertinent, but others appear in need of updating. In particular, we stress the importance of focusing on men as both clients and workers within the sex industry, and flag up a number of connections that might be made with the emerging literatures on the geographies of sex itself. We hence conclude by considering Ashworth et al’s paper as an important early intervention in debates surrounding the relations of sexuality and space, albeit one in which questions of gender, embodiment, and sexual desire remained largely unexplored.