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The political economy of sex: lessons from the semi-peripheral Hungary since the 1990s

Monday, May 10, 2021, 5:30 pm – 7:00 pm

The lecture will mainly focus on two papers which are part of the special issue “The Political Economy of Sexuality” of the Hungarian Replika journal (edited by Fanni Dés and Gergely Csányi). The issue focuses on the societal connections between the position of Hungary in the international division of labour and sexuality, through different case studies. The papers are focusing on distinct topics which are related to the political economy of sexuality such as exploitation of women, sex industry, and discourses around sexuality. 


Anikó Gregor: Behind the scenes: the history of the Hungarian 'porn boom' in the 1990s

In addition to the Czech Republic and the US, Hungary is consistently among the top 3 countries in the world that has the most porn performers proportionately to the number of its inhabitants. Based on a textual and discursive analysis of close to 200 contemporary newspaper clippings in the 1990s, autobiographical books, and semi-structured interviews with participants of the Hungarian porn industry, the presentation sheds light on both the local and global factors that made Hungary an ideal place for the international porn industry to expand the production market after 1989. Hungary's liberal economic policies, the relatively advanced state of technical infrastructure, and the heritage of the ambiguous women's emancipation project of state socialism, which provided cheap, economically vulnerable, and sexually objectified female labor force made the country enormously attractive for the porn industry investors. Furthermore, the local discourses about the 'porn boom' in the 1990s justified the proliferation of porn materials as a sign of westernization and catching up with the West. The presentation aims at providing a critical examination of 'pornification' as a universal analytical concept in Western-centric Porn and Media Studies. It concludes that in this case study of Hungary, by excluding the economic factors behind the 'porn boom,' the concept works insufficiently to reconstruct the history of the Hungarian porn industry in the 1990s.

(The presentation is based on a joint study conducted by Gergely Csányi, Fanni Dés, and Anikó Gregor.)


Fanni Dés: The indescribability of patriarchy – The role of distance in trauma narratives of women who already quitted the prostitution industry and who are still selling sex

As a part of her PhD research which focuses on the exploitation of Hungarian women in prostitution industry of core countries in the context of international division of labour, Dés conducted twenty-five interviews with two groups: with women who are still selling sex in prostitution industry and with women who quitted from the industry. During her lecture, she will present her paper which analyzes these interviews in terms of narratives on violence and trauma in the context of temporal, spatial and emotional closeness and distance to their experiences in the industry. The narratives of the two groups differ significantly in regard to their experiences, the violence committed against them, the experienced trauma, and the nature of prostitution industry. She parallels the differences in the narratives of women with the nature of trauma and with the temporal, spatial and emotional distance from the prostitution industry. Through the differences in the narratives, she examines how it becomes legitimate at the societal level that women in general – but economically vulnerable women even more likely – are exposed to patriarchal violence systematically and without consequences in the prostitution industry, embedded in the capitalist world system. 


Fanni Dés is a PhD student of Corvinus University of Budapest at the Doctoral School of Sociology and Communication Science. She is a member of the Hungarian Working Group for Public Sociology “Helyzet”. Her research is mainly focusing on the topic of oppression of women in society, on violence against women, and on the exploitation of women in sex industry.

Anikó Gregor is a sociologist and an assistant professor teaching at ELTE University, Budapest. She holds a master's degree in Gender Studies (CEU,' 11) and received her PhD in Sociology (ELTE,' 15). In 2019/2020, she was a visiting research fellow at Freie Universität, Berlin, as part of the Academy in Exile program. In her research, she focuses on the effects of the current processes of neoliberal restructuring on gender relations in Eastern Europe.