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Poles apart? A comparative analysis of female university students and graduates working in the UK stripping and hospitality industries

Simpson, J. (2019). Poles apart? A comparative analysis of female university students and graduates working in the UK stripping and hospitality industries. (Unpublished Doctoral thesis, City, University of London)


This is a longitudinal, comparative study which explores 39 women’s experiences - over time and retrospectively – of becoming a university student and waitress or stripper and latterly a graduate in the UK. The research addresses a gap in existing sex work scholarship by looking at what happens after university for students working as strippers and extends the scope by looking at this in comparison with students working as waitresses. I have taken a multidimensional approach to explore how different roles and identities intersect and how plans and imagined futures/selves evolve over time. I focus on women’s decision-making processes and experiences as they remain within or leave their respective part-time ‘student jobs’ and enter alternative careers, or not.

Applying concepts such as emotion, affect and relationality, findings from this thesis challenge theories of individualism and research which frames students/graduates as isolated, ‘rational’ actors. The analysis extends beyond work and education taking into account women’s personal lives and relationships which are then situated within the broader socio-political and economic context of austerity and youth unemployment. This offers a more complex way of knowing women’s lives by locating sex workers as people with experiences outside of the sex industry. Furthermore, by addressing a much wider range of (gendered) issues relating to student/graduate transitions than are currently given space. For example, sexual assault, health, pregnancy, caring responsibilities, intimate relationships and bullying.

Women’s (middle-class) expectations of their future lives/selves did not always match their material realities. However, I argue that if we continue to measure the value of jobs or women’s experiences post-university against the dominant middle-class standard, workingclass women will always be seen as inferior/lacking/deficient; regardless of what they do. Participants in this study were acutely aware of how they were positioned by the ‘middle-class judgmental gaze’ and as such, did not consider themselves or their jobs to be ‘real’, ‘proper’ or ‘good enough’. I argue for a more nuanced understanding of classed experiences and against the (over)use of the ‘deficit’ approach to class analysis which crudely positions working/middle-class lives as oppositional; with the former always wholly negative. Indeed, when taking different value systems into account, women’s lives become more than their ‘destinations’ after university.

Finally, this thesis includes the first systematic comparative analysis of stripping and waitressing and challenges the assumption that stripping, and sex work, are inherently different and Other to ‘mainstream’ labour. I do not claim that these jobs are simply one-and-the-same. Instead, I look at similarities and differences, asking why these exist and what this means for theorising gender, class, work and employment more broadly. Findings demonstrate how the increased closure of strip clubs – under the guise of gender equality – has done little to tackle the causes of sexism while at the same time making the work more difficult and dangerous for women. By foregrounding women’s voices as workers/students/graduates, the data adds to existing sex work scholarship and to debates on Higher Education, strip club regulation and sexual harassment in the workplace, which are areas currently being (re)addressed by governments.

Publication Type: Thesis (Doctoral)
Subjects: H Social Sciences > HM Sociology
Departments: Doctoral Theses
School of Policy & Global Affairs > Sociology & Criminology
School of Policy & Global Affairs > School of Policy & Global Affairs Doctoral Theses
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