First Advisor

Stephanie Wahab

Date of Publication


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) in Social Work and Social Research


Social Work




Prostitutes -- Oregon -- Portland -- Attitudes, Sex-oriented businesses -- Social aspects -- Oregon -- Portland, Women -- Social conditions -- Research -- Oregon -- Portland



Physical Description

1 online resource (xv, 370 p.) : ill. (some col.)


The ways in which sex workers have been studied and represented historically, socio-politically and academically do not take into account their voices, subjective experiences and participation in the process. Women working in the sex industry are seldom heard and their needs are consistently defined and represented by others. This contributes to the stereotyping and stigmatization of sex workers, while academic research is consistently being done on sex workers instead of with them. This study uses the arts-based research method of photovoice with individuals working in the sex industry in Portland, Oregon to understand their needs and aspirations through their own artistic self-representation. Understanding sex workers’ needs from their own point of view provides the opportunity for collaborative knowledge creation of important issues in order to enhance social service design and delivery, and advocate for social change. Valuing sex workers’ aspirations supports the acknowledgement of individual strengths, skills, and visions. Drawing from techniques of interpretive phenomenological analysis methods, the themes that emerge to illustrate the participants’ needs and aspirations include: sustainability of the body; nourishment of the heart; fostering of the mind and soul; social justice and activism; dreams and desires; and self-empowerment and identity. The participants create meaning from their photographs through the use of self, performance, bodies, emotions, imagination, intellect, humor and story-telling. The role of intersectionality informs the sex workers’ diverse experiences and their unique ways of self-expression. The researcher uses collage as reflexivity to illustrate, contextualize and reflect her physical, emotional, and mental experiences throughout the study. The multiple art exhibits that ensue from this study allow for the artists’ visions and voices to travel to a broad audience beyond academia, in order to reach influential community advocates and challenge stigma and stereotypes. This arts-based study presents the richness and complexity of alternative forms of data, invites new levels of engagement that are both cognitive and emotional, and provides creative ways through which to explore and understand the experiences of sex workers.


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Portland State University. Social Work and Social Research Ph. D. Program

Persistent Identifier