Elisa J. Sobo Book Review Editor, Medical Anthropol- ogy Quarterly Department of Anthropology San Diego State University
How are books selected to be sent out for review at ? Books are sent out for review if they are sent in. If you have written or contributed to a book and would like to make sure that it gets reviewed in MAQ, please ask your publisher to send us a copy. All medical an- thropology books received are sent out for review.
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We are hopeful that the book reviews published in MAQ are helpful to our read- ers. If you have any questions or concerns, please contact the book review editor, Elisa J. Sobo, [email protected] you have a copy of your book sent to us, we will be more than happy to solicit a review.
On the Game: Women and Sex Work. Sophie Day. London: Pluto Press, 2007, ix + 277 pp.
Yasmina Katsulis Arizona State University
On the Game: Women and Sex Work is largely based on between 1986 and 2000. It also relies, to some extent, on the authors work in a GUM (genitourinary medicine, or STD) clinic, where she was able to identify re- search participants, observe clinic opera- tions, and access medical data. The choice of a health care setting as her primary
298 Medical Anthropology Quarterly
base of operations allowed Day to recruit both indoor (house) and outdoor (street) sex workers representing a diverse range of in- comes and backgrounds, and to maintain a stable and visible presence in a rapidly changing field setting for more than two decades.
Using thick description, Day delves into the personal lives, experiences, and stories shared with her, as both she, and her par- ticipants, grow older. Although life-history data were collected for several hundred sex workers over a 14-year period (354 for the first wave of data collection; 60 for the fi- nal wave), the sample itself is not described statistically. Thus, there are no easily identi- fiable sets of facts or statistics against which the reader may contextualize the core of the book, which concerns sex workers stories, the epithet of public women, methods by which sex workers keep activities, times, and places apart, the consequences of these divisions, and whether or not these divisions ever become reconciled.
Days study is unique in the literature on sex work because it provides both prospec- tive and retrospective accounts by the same women at different times of their life. To ac- complish this task, Day illustrates how work and business strategies differ over time, and how different visions of the past, present, and future relate to those strategies.
Although Day worked in a GUM clinic to recruit her informants, this is not an ac- counting of sexually transmitted infections among prostitutes. Day attends to more broadly defined occupational health issues such as labor conditions, mental illness, and quality of life, as well as issues related to sex- uality, identity making, and the body. Using personal storytelling and as a central theme, this book touches on important practical issues such as the shift in local working conditions as a result of the influx of sex workers from overseas; sex-worker activism(s); health and safety; police and client relationships; peer rela- tionships, social stratification, and knowl- edge exchange; consumption practices and bodily investments; infertility, pregnancy, and motherhood; sexualities and identity
politics; and differing ideologies of person- hood, work, and business. Days tone is bleak and hopeless at times, reflecting, no doubt, a frustration with the many unful- filled dreams and failed enterprises of some of her participants.
Day is careful not to impose her own nar- rative over the lives of those with whom she worked. Hers is not a tragic commen- tary about victims of prostitution. It is not a set of stories about good girls gone bad; nor is it a story of redemption or reha- bilitation. Although she provides space for those who construct a more typical career trajectory (e.g., a straightforward answer as to why they engaged in sex work, the goal they aspired to, and whether they met that goal), Day is also careful to contrast these narratives with those from participants who live in the moment, year after year, with no clear p