The Strategic Action Field of Sex Work and Sex Trafficking: A Case Study of a Contentious Field in Chicago


By bhadmin February 2, 2021

This paper looks at organizations working on issues of sex work/sex trafficking in Chicago as a strategic action field (SAF): a space where actors engage in collective action with a shared understanding of the field’s purposes, rules, and norms. Through analysis of SAFs, scholars focus on how actors intersect, manifesting in a context that simultaneously allows for reproducing the status quo, as well as producing social change. Using qualitative interviews with members of this particular SAF in Chicago, I demonstrate how actors in the field use the SAF concept of social skill to control the policy field. The challenger organization in particular uses social skill to exploit exogenous shocks to their advantage, pursuing legitimacy through their alignment with human service nonprofits. This paper concludes with a consideration of the use of SAF theory to dynamic fields such as sex work/sex trafficking, conceptualizing how field-level social change may occur.

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