Thursday, January 26, 2012

Spot Tectonic Shifts at New York's Premier Book Event

Editors Mark Schuller and Pablo Morales, along with their contributors will be at The Brecht Forum in New York tomorrow, January 27, 2012 to promote Tectonic Shifts. The event will begin at 7:30PM, and will include a book signing and lecture.

For more information, visit The Brecht Forum's Upcoming Events or contact me:

Monday, January 23, 2012

Tectonic Shifts Preps to Shake Up Washington, DC

Dear Kumarian Press Readers,

Heard about the new Kumarian Press book, Tectonic Shifts: Haiti Since the Earthquake?

Editor Mark Schuller will be at Busboys and Poets in Washington, D.C. on January 24th for a book signing and lecture starting at 6:30pm. The event will be at the 14th and V location, metro-accessible on the green line.

Then, Schuller will make an appearance on January 25th at the Embassy of Haiti for a book signing and film screening with the Ambassador and the Prime Minister of Haiti. This event will begin promptly at 5:30pm.

For more information on attending, please contact me: and listen to NPR's All Things Considered and Morning Edition today and tomorrow for detailed information.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Guest Author Posting By Susan Dewey

Thinking about ethical research on illegal sex work:
Three stories of privilege

At the Annual Meeting of the National Women’s Studies Association (NWSA) this November in Atlanta, Georgia, I chaired and took part in an extraordinary panel entitled “Sex Work and Social Justice: New Research Directions.” Panel participants interrogated the complex nuances of privilege in their own lives and research through the lens of their work as activists, health practitioners, researchers, and teachers. For me, participating in this panel was a very powerful experience in that it exposed the vulnerabilities that both researchers and research participants face in carrying out work on a topic that remains highly politicized and emotionalized in both research and practice. I told the panel’s audience how I originally became interested in sex work research when taking Women’s Studies for the first time as an undergraduate. My professor, a self-identified feminist, explained to the class that sex work unequivocally constituted a form of violence against women, a grave human rights violation, and, above all, activity to which no woman would voluntarily consent. I listened intently to the professor speak, all the time thinking about how the violence she described as inherent to sex work profoundly contradicted the stories I had heard from women I knew (some of whom were my family members) who had engaged in sex work. As a shy nineteen year working three jobs to pay my own way through college, I felt that the professor must be right (she was, after all, the professor), yet I also knew, intuitively, that her description certainly mischaracterized the experiences of women in my own life. After recounting this experience, I explained to the panel’s audience that when I now teach my own college classes about sex work, I am careful to explain to my students that, inevitably, someone in the classroom has exchanged sex for money or something of value. After all, as I always tell my students, we all trade sex for something, whether it’s money, love, or acceptance. Other panelists talked about their own experiences engaging in sex work, as well as about their activist work and the questions it encouraged them to think about. After the panel was over, a thirty-something academic woman approached me and said, “This was such a great panel. It really encouraged me to confront a lot of my own moral standards.” I felt complimented, but also strangely conflicted. Had the purpose of the panel really been to encourage her to think about her own value system? Where was morality in all of this?

I am currently engaged in a new research project that examines understandings and perceptions of the U.S. anti-trafficking laws amongst sex workers, social service providers, and law enforcement in a major city in the American West. This ongoing project has (like the audience member at the NWSA panel) indeed pushed me to confront many stereotypes I did not even know that I had. In the past few months, I have listened to a sex worker explain that she advocates the decriminalization of sex work in order to reduce violence against sex workers, to a law enforcement officer describe his frustrations with the revolving door justice system that characterizes prostitution offenses, to a community activist who told me “for sex workers seeking services, sometimes the state just becomes the new pimp”, and to a volunteer at a faith-based shelter explain how God called her to engage in service provision with sex workers. I have also seen things that have caused me great emotional angst and made me question my role as a researcher. The first time I drove past a street sex worker who was clearly underage in the city in which I am working, my first impulse was to stop the car and ask her if she needed help, or if she wanted the name and address of shelters that could assist her. I estimated that she was about thirteen years old, an age that even the staunchest advocates of sex work’s legalization or decriminalization would argue is too young. I did not stop the car when I noticed that she was standing with a much older man, as part of the risk reduction strategies I submitted for approval from the Institutional Review Board (IRB) at my university mandated that I should never approach sex workers who are engaged in conversation or standing with men. I also do not have IRB permission to carry out research with minors. I then considered calling the police, but then hesitated when I remembered stories sex workers had told me about negative experiences in foster or institutional care. Despite the weeks of careful consideration I had put into designing my IRB proposal (and the years of research experience with sex workers that preceded it), I felt unprepared to deal with the surge of emotion I experienced when I saw her standing with others in a rather dangerous neighborhood synonymous with street sex work. That night, I was driving because I hadn’t felt safe walking; just three blocks earlier I had seen four men handcuffed and face down on the ground as two police officers trained their guns on them while others stacked bags of the narcotics confiscated from the men onto the hood of the squad car. Looking at the girl through the driver’s side window, I felt pity, anger, and, above all, an overwhelming sense of powerlessness and inefficacy in the complex matrix of authority and privilege that surrounds the slippery boundary that separates illegal albeit voluntary sex work from the coercion that defines contemporary sex trafficking legislation.

This semester I am teaching an advanced course called “Global Sex Work and Trafficking,” which is offered through Gender & Women’s Studies at my university. My students come primarily from Criminal Justice, Psychology, Social Work, and related fields. They hope to go on to careers that will likely involve sex workers in some capacity. For the Criminal Justice majors, this will most likely happen in the context of arrest and detention; for the social workers, it may come as part of court-mandated treatment or other forms of case management. The stakes seem inordinately high to me every time I prepare to teach this class, which meets once a week for three hours. I constantly ask myself how I can engage my students, who come from a wide range of backgrounds and life experiences, without causing the feelings of offense or alienation that can so easily derail a course on sensitive subject matter. I constantly repeat that we need to understand sex work intellectually, without allowing our personal moral philosophies to intrude upon our critical analyses of various debates with respect to sex work. As I endeavor to provide these students with knowledge so that they, in their future capacities as law enforcement officers or social workers, react sensitively when their work brings them into contact with sex workers, I remain vigilant of the nuanced ways in which they react, constantly watching their faces for signs of discomfort. Doing so makes me think, without irony, of the emotion management and negotiation in which sex workers engage with their clients. It also makes me think of the contexts in which the knowledge gained from my class will be used in their future careers.

I am cognizant of the fact that I currently live a life in which I am insulated by privilege in myriad forms. I know that I am different from the sex workers I have been getting to know through research, no matter how much I might empathize with and enjoy their company. I am not filled with the kind of visceral dread as some street sex workers when I encounter a police officer in uniform. Yesterday, for instance, I found myself pulled over on the side of an isolated road, squad car lights flashing behind me. The handsome officer, who was about my age, told me that I had just run a stop sign. I had been distracted on my way to the office, thinking about a grant proposal that I had promised myself I would finish that day. I really hadn’t seen the stop sign, I explained, but the officer looked skeptical. “Officer,” I said as I started to involuntarily tear up, “I really am a responsible member of this community. I teach at the university, and I have a lot of Criminal Justice majors in class. I’m on the Board of Directors at the Women’s Shelter, and I have so much respect for the police officers I meet when I’m doing my prostitution research.” He tilted his head. “You’re doing research on prostitution? What does that even involve?” I explained a bit about participant observation and ethnographic methods as I handed over my faculty ID and a copy of my insurance card, the only documents I had with me. He seemed interested and thoughtful as returned to his squad car, where he sat for a few minutes. I felt angry with myself as I waited. Why had I told him all of that? Why had I said “prostitution”, a term that the law uses but that I infrequently use myself? What kind of unethical person tries to demonstrate allegiances to avoid an expensive ticket? Where was my integrity? When the good-looking officer returned to my car window, he didn’t give me a ticket. “Promise me that you’ll watch out for stop signs from now on. You can’t get distracted just because you’re doing hard work.” And then he winked at me, and said “I understand.” As I drove away, tremendously relieved at having avoided the ticket, I wondered how different my interaction would have been with the officer had I been soliciting on the street. Would he have said “I understand”? Would he have winked?

Despite these mixed emotions, I understand that I am different from the police officers I meet through research, just as my life is very different from sex workers I encounter. I will never fully grasp what it feels like to arrest a street sex worker for the twentieth time when I know in my heart, as some police officers have explained to me, that addiction treatment would be a much more humane (and cost-effective) option. Likewise, I will never fully be able to feel all of the emotions that social workers do when they have a client refuse shelter and services in order to return to a life that may kill them. I feel so deeply privileged to meet the diverse array of actors who I regularly encounter in my research. I try to constantly interrogate my own positionality vis-à-vis their work and perspectives, attempting to remain impartial and to focus on understanding their worldviews without judgment. Some nights I cry as I drive home, while other times I just marvel at the infinite human capacity to face suffering fearlessly.

I have learned almost everything I now understand about what it means to be human by thinking about ethical research, and by doing my best to ensure that I hold myself to the highest of ethical standards. I believe that we, as researchers, need to listen more carefully to multiple perspectives when thinking about, and doing research on, heavily loaded topics such as sex work. It is only through listening intently, and without judgment, that we will truly come to understand the complex matrix of power and privilege that surrounds contemporary perspectives on sex work.

Susan Dewey is an Assistant Professor of Gender & Women’s Studies at the University of Wyoming and author of Hollow Bodies.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

The Microfiance Debate Continues: Does it Really Work?

David Rooman, a once ago defender of Microfiannce now says no. In his new book, Due Diligence, Rooman indicates that the average impact of microcredit on clients in zero. This conclusion is drawn off of years of research, stemming from the idea that tiny loans can be dished out to the poor, especially among women, to drastically reduce global poverty, and will overall positively affect our economy. This, however, only sometimes works, as billions are poured into government projects.

"Roodman's assessment is far afield from the enthusiasm microfinance programs have generated since the first institution for them, the Grameen Bank in Bangladesh, opened in 1976. The bank's founder, Muhammad Yunus, won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2006 and is probably the third world's most celebrated economist." (Read more)

Yunus' original idea seemed so simple at one point in time: that millions could be lifted out of poverty and the global economy could benefit if only the poor could obtain credit. Kumarian Press's new Whose Sustainability Counts? discusses Yunus's position in the microfinance industry and the state of the business today.

Although popular in the U.S. and in Europe, Rooman found that institiutions' repayment records affect the borrower. This came as a surprise as microfinance organizations have in the past been known for having a better repayment rate of loans than the banks themselves.

Rooman says that the generosity of the U.S. and the E.U. has lead to a negative impact on the economy. The giving is actually hurting, by not teaching those to save money.

Roodman says. "Poor people can save — they just want safe places to do it."

Milford Bateman, author of Confronting Microfinance will be at USAID in Washington, D.C. on January 30th to debate Rooman on this issue.

Friday, January 6, 2012

U.S DOD Assists Haiti Earthquake Aftermath Response

This week, Haiti's Department of Civil Protection network received equipment from the U.S. Department of Defense for the use of disaster-response efforts. During the event, the U.S. Southern Command (SOUTHCOM) received recognition and praise for their relief assistance in Haiti, and shows our strong ties and ongoing support of and with the country.

"In a ceremony held at the Directorate of Civil Protection in Haiti (DPC) in Port Au Prince , U.S. Ambassador to Haiti , Kenneth Merten , signed over the equipment to Haiti 's Minister of the Interior, Defense and the Collectivities Thierry Mayard-Paul, in support of Haiti 's Civil Protection network and ongoing disaster preparedness." (Yahoo Finance: U.S. Department of Defense Helps Bolster Haiti's Disaster Response)

The equipment given ranged from vehicles including SUVs, trucks, boats and canoes to tents and radios.

This gesture came only two weeks before the two-year anniversary of Haiti's devastating earthquake, that left the Capital in rubble and tore families apart.

"Haiti is in a geographic location that is vulnerable to the variances of nature, including hurricanes, floods, and earthquakes," said Mayard-Paul. "Our efforts to put this country back on course and to achieve our goals for sustainable economic development are also susceptible to these natural disasters. Therefore, the valuable contributions of our U.S. friends will help substantially in strengthening our disaster mitigation efforts while we continue to serve our individual communities through job creation and economic growth."

To learn more about Haiti's Earthquake aftermath, read Tectonic Shifts, a new January 2012 release by Kumarian Press. The book discusses Haiti since the Earthquake and provides insight into the lives of the people of Haiti today.