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School of Social and Political Science: Graduate school


Rebecca Hewer

Rebecca Hewer
Rebecca Hewer
Social Policy School of Social and Political Science University of Edinburgh
Edinburgh UK EH8 9LD
Research Interests
Gender and crime, Feminism, Policy construction, Criminology, Sex Work, Sex & Gender, Critical Social and Political Theory, Neoliberalism, Discourse Theory, Ideology, Policy, Law and Regulation, Prostitution, Critical Discourse Analysis, Risk and vulnerability

PhD Title

"Our (In)Ability to Speak": Interpretations and Representations of Prostitution in an English Policy Context

My thesis was submitted on 8th December 2016. I passed my viva, without corrections, on 8th March 2017. 

Thesis Abstract 

Over the last ten to fifteen years, prostitution policies in England have grown increasingly welfarist in tone, stressing the relative victimhood and vulnerability of women who sell sex. This thesis explores important facets of these emergent narratives. Using a qualitative multi-method approach, it investigates the manner in which 21 policy-actors and seven policy documents, principally originating from the English prostitution ‘policy subsystem’, represent prostitution.  From a methodological perspective, generated findings are explored through the dual interpretative frameworks of critical discourse analysis and sociological frame theory. These frameworks require that localised narratives be contextualised within, and explained by reference to, broader discursive and cultural conditions. In deference to this, findings are situated within rich bodies of academic literature which commentate on, promote and critique various political philosophies, ideologies, and critical social theories, e.g. (neo)-liberalism, feminisms, Bourdieusian sociology. 

More specifically, this thesis explores the way 21 policy actors, and four of the selected policy documents, represent the subjecthood of women who sell sex. It approaches this endeavour via discussions of vulnerability, subjectivity/choice, and gender. Here, it suggests that - whilst there is a broad consensus regarding the internal individualism of women who sell sex, and the instrumentality of externalities in shaping her social spaces - questions of gender remain highly contested. Thereafter, this thesis explores the way the same policy-actors, and three distinct policy documents, discursively include/exclude prostitution from violence against women and girls (VAWG) narratives. Here, it concludes that whilst there is a general commitment to the feminist sociological model of VAWG, the question of whether or not prostitution should be included beneath its auspices is highly contentious–pitting classically oppositional coalitions of actors against one another and creating intramural disputes within coalitions themselves. Drawing these strands together, concluding chapters explore framing dynamics. In total, this thesis offers a number of contributions to the fields of prostitution and VAWG policy studies.

My thesis demonstrates that while debates in the English prostitution policy subsystem frequently appear to be comprised of two bitterly oppositional ‘advocacy coalitions’, the two groups in fact share multiple areas of ideological consensus, at least with regard to how they understand prostitution. Indeed, more often than not, coalitions differ principally with regard to the prognostic frames they promote.  In turn, this disrupts extant literature on advocacy coalitions, which suggest that policy-actors organise themselves into groups by reference to their core belief systems, whilst showing a willingness to compromise on secondary considerations. These areas of consensus by no means suggests that matters are straightforward, however. Indeed, this thesis provides evidence that English government prostitution polciy debates are nuanced, and complex– that actors entertain and promote contradictory narratives, that coalitions suffer intra-mural fractures, and that framing preferences are strategically engaged. With regard to the latter, my thesis makes a significant methodological contribution to the field of discourse analysis, insofar as it explores the manner in which respondents can be represented as both formed through, and active users of, discourse. It does so by bringing two distinct discourse theories/methods into dialogue. Over and above this, this thesis seizes upon the theoretical opportunities presented when original findings and extant academic scholarship are used to elucidate and develop one another. Most notably it deploys the work of critical social theorists, Martha Fineman and Pierre Bourdieu, to explore new ways in which the harms of prostitution can be conceived.


Dr Sharon Cowan (Law), Dr Katherine Smith (Social Policy) and Dr Sotiria Grek (Social Policy). 


Shortlisted: EUSA Impact Awards (2015/2016)

Teaching Awards Nominee (2014/2015 & 2015/2016) 

Sue Grant Service Award (2014)

ESRC Doctoral Studentship (2013/2016)

Lord Justice Holker Scholarship (2007)


MSc Social Research (Distinction), 2013, University of Edinburgh 

Bar Vocational Course, 2008, Bristol Institute of Legal Practice

Graduate Diploma in Law (Commendation), 2007, College of Law, London

History BA (Hons), 2006, University of Bristol 


Senior Tutor: Politics of the Welfare State (UG) - 2015/2016 & 2016/2017

Co-Convenor/Lecturer: Social Inequality and the Life Course (UG) - 2015/2016 & 2016/2017

Teaching Assistant: Social Policy and Society (UG) - 2014/2015

Teaching Assistant: Political Issues in Public Policy (PG) - 2013/2014 

Teaching Assistant: Politics of the Welfare State (UG) - 2013/2014 

Conference Papers and Publications 

Hewer, R. (2016) Symbolic Violence and the Sale of Sex: A Reconceptualisation of Harm in Prostitution, BSA Bourdieu Study Group Conference 2016, Bristol, UK

Hewer, R. (2015) Interpretations and Representations of Prostitution in English & Welsh Prostitution Policy: Tracing Neoliberal Influence in Signification, Annual National Women Studies Association Conference 2015, Milwaukee, Wisconsin, USA 

Hewer, R. (2015) Towards a Progressive Prostitution Policy: Countering the Neoliberal Turn, Annual Social Policy Association Conference 2015, Belfast, Northern Ireland, UK  

Hewer, R (2015) “Book Review: Vulnerability: Reflections on a New Ethical Foundation for Law and Politics.” Social & Legal Studies 24(3) 


Editorial Assistant - Smith, Katherine E., Clare Bambra, and Sarah E. Hill, eds. 2015. Health Inequalities: Critical Perspectives. 

Founder and  Former Editor in Chief - 'It Ain't Necessarily So' - March 2014 to August 2015

Staff Writer - 'It Aint Necessarily So' - 2014 to Present

Non-Practicing Barrister - Honourable Society of Grays Inn - Called to the Bar 2008