Accepted paper:

Big sisters acting out: performative protest, feminist identity politics and the solicitation of prostitution in Iceland


Kelly Johnson (University of Durham)

Paper short abstract:

This paper analyses Big Sister’s performative activism against the solicitation of prostitution in Iceland – exploring how performance, rhetoric and identity politics mobilised public support – and closes by considering how this research engages with Big Sister’s overall pursuit of social justice.

Paper long abstract:

This paper presents the innovative activism of Big Sister, an anonymised group of women who came together in Reykjavik to protest against a systematic toleration of the solicitation of prostitution and other related offences by the state and wider civil society, despite these acts being illegal in Iceland. Big Sister's members powerfully incorperated the metaphoric and the performative throughout their feminist activism. Yet, rather than 'dramatizing' the issue and relegating their arguments to the realms of the theatrical, by re-locating prostitution within the intimate community setting in which it operates, Big Sister's protests vividly contextualised prostitution and the sex industry in Icelandic society, rousing widespread moral indignation and mobilising support, action and change. This paper will firstly explore the use of performance, rhetoric and identity politics involved in the activism, arguing that the strategic use of these devices produced an overall narrative aesthetic to the movement, which made the protest particularly public, persuasive and appealing to multiple audiences and ideologies. Secondly a reflexive account will be given detailing how my research engaged with Big Sister members and their activism; exploring the mode and purpose of this research - as well as considering the role of voice, objectivity and collaboration throughout - in relation to Big Sister's active pursuit of social justice.

panel P016
Feminist activist ethnography and social change