Sociology: On Prostitution & Moralogical Drives

First, I’d like to open with Thio et al.’s rather poignant and diminished case at the end of covering prostitution, “both oppression and empowerment theories are one-dimensional in focusing on one aspect of prostitution…” (as cited in Thio et al., 2019, p. 236; Weitzer, 2009, p. 215). It is clear, when taking a page from various fields, that there are varying ways to express polarization, where fields altogether are embracing greater technical capabilities is assessing it, along with assessing proposals for minimizing it. That said, something of interest occurred when watching Neumann’s (2019) Sex Trafficking in America—realizing that Phoenix Arizona’s own law enforcers are also, in a way, are demonstrating phenomena underlying theories of deviancy with respect to other cities, states, nations, and global regions. Compared to Phoenix Arizona, other places on the planet have legalized prostitution, some have not, and some have limited it (Thio et al., 2019, p. 233). Phoenix’s officers are in fact, demonstrating aspects of positivist and constructionist theory when enforcing a change in how it handles prostitution, namely in the change in approach to labeling “women and girls” as victims rather than criminals, and labeling pimps as sex traffickers (Neumann, 2019, 00:05:07). To some people in “other places”, Phoenix’s own police may be deemed deviant with respect to their own norms, so here is an opportunity to apply theories of deviancy at an arm’s length perspective.

Weitzer’s Paradigms As Base

Weitzer (2009) considers two paradigms in opposition, namely an oppression paradigm, where “sex work is a quintessential expression of patriarchal gender relations” and the empowerment paradigm, which “focuses on the ways in which sexual commerce qualifies as work, involves human agency, and may be potentially empowering for workers” (p. 214). Later, Weitzer proposes a polymorphous paradigm integrating various aspects to divest from this polarized view (p. 214). Generalizations and dramatic language in the oppression paradigm and the qualification of sex commerce as work in the empowerment paradigm are seen across Bradley-Engen and Ulmer’s (2009) own article on exotic dancing. Exotic dancing is seen by some as a “relatively coercive experience, in which women have little control… a dancer is compelled to modify her physical appearance to adhere to a male ideal…” (p. 30) and when objectively considering normative behavior uses further drama, “hostile, competitive, and isolating… women is expendable…” (p. 43). To others, exotic dancing has a “… more favorable image… there is a high degree of agency… others are less vulnerable, have more control over their work, and derive some degree of psychological and/or physical pleasure…” (p. 30). Breadley-Engen and Ulmer even mention a “more dynamic approach” of both perspectives (pp. 30-31).

In Forrester’s (2016) article on pornography, the oppression paradigm is covered by journalism reporting feminist campaigns targeting the harm of pornography—“it wasn’t a private matter but a political expression of male power”. Catherine MacKinnon is quoted using more dramatic language, as porn is “the graphic sexually explicit subordination of women” (Forrester, 2016). Forrester continues bouncing back and for the between paradigms, only to close with the effects of consolidation as moderated by the internet, and lower pay for pornography stars, closing with “some will find that cause for horror, others for celebration”.

With respect to the polymorphous paradigm of a “constellation of occupational arrangements, power relations, and worker experiences”, it would seem that this is at play in Bradley-Engen and Ulmer, and Forrester, where raw sociological enquiry seems less inclined to polarization in Heyl’s (1977) interactionist study of house prostitute training, though one may imply a certain level of “high class” professionalism within which it studied. That said, Heyl’s own mention of women learning more aggression in employing “the hustle” is noteworthy as a potential aspect of the empowerment paradigm (pp. 549-550), where Heyl mentions that call girl “difficulty in learning to hustle stems more from the fact that it involved inappropriate sex-role behavior” (p. 550). This is interesting and may demonstrate in a grater context evidence of oppression paradigm in the author’s own employment of “appropriate” sex-role behavior. Heyl’s article clearly differentiates streetwalkers to call girls and escorts (p. 549)—important for approaching this very discussion.

Oppression Paradigm in Theoretical Evidence

Considering the change in Phoenix’s policing strategy, one can easily consider this as a defining deviancy up(Moynihan, 1993), as the laws were revised to place prostitution in the realm of sex trafficking (00:04:00). Constructionist relativism is seen in labeling theory at play with stronger labels for pimps receiving permanent consequences as “lifetime sex offender” (00:48:50). “I know it seems like a big to do here, but we have to kind of make it that way, we know that, for you guys…” (00:06:24) strikes a chord of appeals to a higher authority in techniques of neutralization justifying not what they had done historically, but what they are doing and going to do in the future (Sykes & Matza, 1957, Scott & Lyman, 1968). While this may be difficult to see within the frame of Phoenix, from an visitor’s perspective or from a foreign perspective, it is a justification. 

Something further to consider is the police officer’s own contribution to differential association (Sutherland & Cressey, 1977) in reinforcement of the very deviant behavior they are fighting against (00:08:47). While difficult to consider, from one perspective of normalization of prostitution across cultures, a use of Kat exclusively seems deployed as a justification of the enforcement through sad stories (Scott & Lyman, 1968, p. 52). While Kat’s case is specific, sociological theory is useful in considering the behaviors of social movements, including police officers in enforcement. 


Considering Weitzer’s polymorphous paradigm, it seems in hindsight that studies such as Heyl (1977) and Griffith et al. (2013), along with popular articles of press represent a more balanced approach of paradigms, but… what utility is balance if there is a normal distribution assumed between the left of one paradigm vs. the right of another is not the case? What if the distribution of phenomenological evidence “on the ground” difficult to reveal as evidenced in some articles and journalists’ own accounts relay is skewed or bi-modal? It is clearly a different experience across the typology of sex workers (Thio et al., 2019, pp. 222-227). Even then, it is also possible that Merton’s strain theory is at work more so in some areas than others? Do strain adaptations favor certain types of sex workers over others, and are there mediating factors? 

Would Phoenix’s police officers and the state be as aggressive in defining deviancy up if strain was not leading to adaptations in more strictly justifying what some parts of the globe would consider puritan authoritarian conformance upon its people in matters of “basic biological drive”? It’s as if strain theory has a base and a ceiling, where strain is not only a promise of success with little support (i.e., ceiling), but also a mandate of joy consumption rather than satisfaction (i.e., base). Would the question of “biological drives” simply be written off by such individuals as one of Scott & Lyman’s accounts? What a quagmire—is humanity’s appeal to higher authorities in justifying attitudes that may be overly aggressive in administering a decentralized religious preference for ubiquitous human behaviors further accounted for as justified by moralogical drives conveniently obfuscated by bureaucratic “affairs of state”. Affairs shaming, labeling, controlling, conditioning, and paving the way to a future idealized world through accounts and its component of techniques of neutralization… all at arm’s length without breaking the coveted constraint against recognizing a state sanctioned religion. Anomie and strain seem very much at play, squeezing the population simply… to work, a work celebrated as “blood, sweat, and tears”.


Bradley-Engen, M. S., & Ulmer, J. T. (2009). Social worlds of stripping: The processual orders of exotic dance. The Sociological Quarterly, 50(1), 29-60.

Forrester, K. (2016, September 19). Making sense of modern pornography. The New Yorker. Retrieved from

Griffith, J. D., Mitchell, S., Hart, C. L., Adams, L. T., & Gu, L. L. (2013). Pornography actresses: An assessment of the damaged goods hypothesis. Journal of Sex Research, 50(7), 621-632.

Heyl, B. S. (1977). The madam as teacher: The training of house prostitutes. Social Problems, 24(5), 545-555.

Moynihan, D. P. (1993). Defining deviancy down. The American Scholar, 62(1), 17-30.

Neumann, J. [Director] (2019). Frontline: Sex trafficking in America [Documentary]. US Public Broadcasting System.

Sutherland, E. H., & Cressey, D. R. (1977). Criminology, 9th edition. Lippincott.

Thio, A., Taylor, J., Schwartz, M. D. (2019). Deviant behavior, 12th edition. Pearson.

Weitzer, R. (2009). Sociology of sex work. Annual Review of Sociology, 35, 213-234.