Sex Worker Resistance in the Neoliberal Creative City: An auto/ethnography


  • Alex Tigchelaar



sex work, criminalisation, neoliberalism, creative space, Nuit Blanche


Sex workers are subjects of intrigue in urban and creative economies. Tours of active, deteriorating, or defunct red-light districts draw thousands of tourists every year in multiple municipalities around the world. When cities celebrate significant anniversaries in their histories, local sex worker narratives are often included in arts-based public offerings. When sex workers take up urban space in their day-to-day lives, however, they are criminalised. Urban developers often view sex workers as existing serviceably only as legend. A history of sex work will add allure to an up-and-coming neighbourhood, lending purpose to its reformation into a more appropriately productive space, but the material presence of sex workers in these neighbourhoods is seen as a threat to community wellbeing and property values. This paper considers how sex workers, continuously displaced from environments they have carved out as workspaces, may use the arts to draw attention to these ongoing contradictions. It investigates how sex workers may make visible the idiosyncratic state of providing vitality to a city’s history while simultaneously being excluded from its living present. Most critically, it suggests ways in which sex workers may encourage those involved as producers and consumers of neoliberal urban revitalisation projects to connect these often fatal paradoxes to the laws that criminalise their labour.


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Author Biography

Alex Tigchelaar

Alex Tigchelaar is the Research and Development Coordinator at the Institute for Urban Futures at Concordia University, Montreal, Canada. Since 2014 she has been a research assistant on the project Recounting Huronia, which pairs survivors of institutional violence from the Huronia Regional Centre with artists, activists and scholars to update the public record through speaking engagements and arts-based projects. Email:




How to Cite

Tigchelaar, A. (2019). Sex Worker Resistance in the Neoliberal Creative City: An auto/ethnography. Anti-Trafficking Review, (12), 15–36.