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Centre for Gender Studies

Elena Zambelli



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Elena Zambelli
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Thesis title:
"Bodies for contest, bodies to conquest? Women’s embodied subjectivities, the ‘nation’-state and the market” (working title)
Internal Supervisors

PhD Research

My research addresses issues surrounding the increased visibility of the “sexual-economic exchanges” (Tabet, 2004) in contemporary Western liberal states and market economies. On one side the cultural hegemony of ‘the market’ is driving the increasing social acceptability of the commodification of bodies and intimacy. On another, second wave feminists’ struggles to disconnect sex from reproduction and claims of ‘body ownership’ have gained widespread legitimacy beyond feminist circles, and have now ambiguously entered mainstream ‘popular culture’ (see McRobbie 2009).  
In this context, women and girls more or less professionalized provision of (material, virtual, symbolic) services centred on the eroticization of their bodies is growingly ‘normalized’. In the blurring distinction between work, ‘sex work’ and one’s emotional and sexual life, race and class hierarchies are (re)constructed around issues of ‘free choice’ and ‘morality’.
My ongoing ethnographic research in Italy among native and migrant pole dancers, lap dancers, burlesque performers, ‘image girls’ and sex workers  aims to map these slippery borders through two main questions: (i) what does the feminist motto 'my body is mine' mean in a world of increasingly commodified human relationships? (ii) to what extent does women's increased capacity to engage in “sexual-economic exchanges” challenge (or not)  the patriarchal 'Madonna-bitch' binary?

PhD Conferences

  • Zambelli, E. "Bodies for contest, bodies to conquest? Ethnographic impressions on the slippery borders between work, sex work, and ‘love’ - SOAS/University of Bologna workshop: "Bodies, performativity, sexuality and the ‘free choice’ paradigm. Critical approaches", Bologna, 28 June 2013