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Vulnerable Communities / Publication Abstract

Identity Management as a Coping Strategy for Stigmatization: The Case of Indian Sex Workers in a Libidinal Market

Oct 21, 2021

Nilanjana Mitra, Ronald Paul Hill, Himadri Roy Chaudhuri, Anindita Chaudhuri

Vulnerable Communities
Macromarketing & Public Policy


Poor women can face stigmas about indolence, moral turpitude, and substance abuse. This stigmatized condition includes female sex workers, who live and work in situations that exacerbate impoverishment and bring societal exclusion and shame. We situate our arguments at the nexus of poverty and stigma and examine the value of identity formation and reformation in the context of female sex workers in India. These women face restrictions to meet basic needs and remain in the profession despite significant challenges. Our study reveals five identity pathways in their collective consciousness: protector, sacred, commoditized, provider, and eudaimonic/self-acceptance. They come together as themes that reflect these women's lived experiences who were forced to endure systemic violence in relative silence. We use and advance arguments provided by Hill, Ozanne, and Viswanathan and their various colleagues to frame our current understanding of their plight. We contribute to theory by revealing that these identities have positive consequences for personal reconfiguration under conditions of vulnerability. Finally, our results indicate that public policy should recognize the value of self-identities that support resistance in a marginalized marketplace. Sensitizing stakeholders, including policy makers, to destigmatization may also help sex workers gain the courage of their convictions to leave the profession.

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