Date of Award


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy



First Advisor

Miller, Michelle


This study explores the boundary-work accomplished by seventeen female and male escort workers. Escort work, defined as the acceptance of money for spending time with and offering companionship to others, is not illegal; however, social scientific research indicates that escort workers often engage in paid sexual activity, thus placing their occupation within the realm of prostitution. Previous research indicates that escort workers, subsumed within the highest echelon of the prostitution hierarchy, are less likely than their street and brothel counterparts to report victimization and stigmatization, and are more likely to earn higher wages and use safe-sex practices. In light of these significant variations in work-related experiences, I use the boundaries framework and study boundary-work accomplished by the participants in an attempt to avoid perpetuating negative labels associated with escort work. I define boundary-work as the process by which individuals create symbolic distinctions between themselves and others, and the individualized process of structural boundary negotiation. Individuals play a significant role in the processes of group inclusion and exclusion through the creation of symbolic boundaries; they also must negotiate structural boundaries, such as laws and stereotypical gender roles. Thus: the study of boundary-work provides a means for social scientists to engage in intra- and inter-group comparisons among "deviant" and "non-deviant" individuals. Through in-depth interviews with nine female and eight male escort workers, I identified the symbolic boundaries they used to distinguish themselves from others. In addition to the identification of socio-economic, cultural and moral boundaries used as criteria for inclusion in and exclusion from their personal and professional lives, this study also identifies various strategies used to negotiate one structural boundary: criminal law. In addition, this study provides support for rational choice theory, as all of the participants viewed escort work as a chosen profession, and each participant believed the benefits outweighed the real costs and potential risks associated with escort work. Future research needs to (1) tease out the structural elements of boundary-work, (2) use a measure of relative saliency among symbolic boundaries, and (3) collect data regarding boundary-work accomplished by members of assumed "deviant" and "non-deviant" groups, in order to address basic assumptions of deviance.




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