Becker’s (2008,176) observations that the insights of the lived experiences of hard to reach groups are often supplied by journalistic accounts are echoed by Hallsgrimsdottir et al (2008, 121) who theorise that there is a political, economic and moral distancing from sex work resulting in the media providing the main basis of what most people understand about sex work. The somewhat clandestine nature of sex work means that the ability of sex workers to advance alternative narratives to the current dominant discourse are limited unless they are prepared to reveal their status as a sex worker. With this in mind I will be employing a qualitative methodology in the form of semi-structured interviews which work well in thematic, phenomenological and grounded theory studies where the objective is to elicit the participant’s own personal narrative. (Starks & Trinidad 2007,1374).
In doing this I wish to present a better informed picture of how women performers experience webcamming as a form of labour. In contrast to the dominant discourse favoured by most mainstream media, that sex work is only ever a place of exploitation and abuse (Bindel 2017). The narratives that are portrayed by the media about webcamming and the women engaged in it are presented somewhat differently. Traditionally conservative media outlets such as the BBC (Atteshlis 2014) and The New York Times (Richtel 2013) have portrayed webcamming in a rather positive light.
Research into hard to reach or ‘hidden populations’ such as sex workers present, a number of practical problems that are not encountered by researchers whose areas of interests are not as sensitive or involve known populations. For researchers, such as myself who are interested in exploring the experiences of webcam performers who utilise the webcam as way to perform sexual acts for money, there is not the option of running scientific control trials or sampling from the national census (Faugier & Sargeant 1997, 790). However, while it can be difficult to obtain access to the experiences of hard to reach population it is important that academics, such as myself persevere in these endeavours. As Lee (1993,2) theorises, the type of sensitive research topic that evades quantitative research, because no easily accessible sampling frame exists, may aid theory building as they present a challenge to existing hegemonies. Exploring as they do either taboo subjects or populations who are stigmatised or criminalized and whose narratives are often told by intermediaries. In the case of sex workers their voices have all too often been replaced with those of journalists, activists, and academics (Lister 2017). Voices that have their own political agenda which are frequently far removed from the lived experiences of the women they claim to be speaking for.
Atteshlis. C (2014). The Truth about Webcam Girls. BBC. 24 February 2014. Available at: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt3620298/ [Accessed 22nd March 2017].
Becker, H.S. (1963). Outsiders: Studies in the Sociology of Deviance. New York: The Free Press.
Bindel, J., (2017). Whorephobia isn’t a threat to feminism – but ignoring the abuse of women is. The Independent [Online]. Available at: < http://www.independent.co.uk/voices/whorephobia-queer-feminism-fourth-wave-sex-work-prostitution-a7631706.html> Accessed on 22 March 2017
Faugier, J., & Sargeant, M. (1997). Sampling hard to reach populations. Journal of advanced nursing, 26(4), 790-797.
Griffiths, P., Gossop, M., Powis, B., & Strang, J. (1993). Reaching hidden populations of drug users by privileged access interviewers: methodological and practical issues. Addiction, 88(12), 1617-1626.
Lee, R., M. (1993). Doing Research on Sensitive Topics. Sage: London
Lister, K. (2017). Guest Columnist: Kate Lister. January 9 2017. The Honest Courtesan, frank commentary from an unretired call girl. [Online]. [21/03/2017]. Available From: https://maggiemcneill.wordpress.com/2017/01/09/guest-columnist-kate-lister/
Richtel, M (2013). Intimacy on the Web, With a Crowd. New York Times [Online], (Technology) 21 September. Available from: http://www.nytimes.com/2013/09/22/technology/intimacy-on-the-web-with-a-crowd.html [Accessed 22nd March 2017 ].
Starks, H., & Trinidad, S. B. (2007). Choose your method: A comparison of phenomenology, discourse analysis, and grounded theory. Qualitative health research, 17(10), 1372-1380.