Public Bodies: On Cities, Infrastructures, and Intimacies

Alexandra Pereira-Edwards | Editor, Canadian Centre for Architecture, Canada                                                                                                                                                                                   

Cities are constituted by overlapping networks of bodies, infrastructures, and intimacies. These networks form the often-overlooked space of the everyday for many, yet for sex workers, city space has the capacity to reproduce patterns of violence and marginalization. A deep reading of Canadian sex work legislation exposes an interconnected web of power, policing, and exclusionary tactics with harmful repercussions— essentially making it illegal for sex workers to exist in either “public” or “private” spaces as defined by Western logic. Situated within sex-positive feminist discourse and an ongoing infrastructural turn across disciplines, this paper engages sex work as a lens through which to assess acceptable forms of intimacy within the space of the city, acknowledging the numerous physical and affective infrastructural networks that reinforce dominant stigmas associated with the profession. In connecting presently disparate fields of inquiry, most prominently those of sex work, affect, and the built environment, the paper will analyze how power unfolds at numerous scales and levels of visibility—from the omnipresence of the law, to the palpable space of the city, down to the visceral scale of the body—while focusing on commonly held assumptions about sex work in order to expose and reconfigure them. Within this conception, design and research are activated as political sites of struggle, and the body is mobilized as a site of individual and collective agency. This spatial understanding of sex work and intimacy offers a rubric for creating more inclusive, receptive, and equitable spaces of public engagement, and for working alongside those who continue to be systemically marginalized. These inquiries ultimately serve to uncover the dominant socio-spatial structures that govern marginalized bodies, offering a provocation to facilitate more expansive and intimate publics, and reflecting on what constitutes an infrastructural practice.