‘Do you really want to hear about my life?’: doing ‘feminist research’ with women in sex work in Eastern India
This article reflects on insights gathered from doing feminist research during my doctoral studies in international development. My research focused on the lives of women formerly and currently in sex work in Eastern India, and their experiences and resistance of everyday violence. I argue that the adoption of a life-history interviewing method created possibilities to move away from standard topics associated with sex work, and allowed women in sex work to discuss the dynamism and fluidity within their lives, within, before, and after sex work. I also explore how this method enabled the theme of koshto (pain) to emerge which challenges the framing of violence in sex work as exceptional. I argue that women in sex work need to feel heard and acknowledged within feminist research, not simply as subjects of knowledge gathering or to inform development discourses and interventions, but as human beings with dynamic personhoods. Finally, I share lessons learnt which can be useful to future feminist researchers researching sex work, within a current environment of ideologically polarised discussions on victimhood and agency in sex work.