Q&A: Paul Maginn Eyes UNLV Lecture, Talks ‘(Sub) Urban Sexscapes’

LOS ANGELES — Paul Maginn told XBIZ his new book “(Sub) Urban Sexscapes: Geographies and Regulation of the Sex Industry” explores an area of research that is relatively untapped.

The Associate Professor of Urban and Regional Planning at the University of Western Australia co-edited the book with Christine Steinmetz, a senior lecturer in the Bachelor of Planning program at the University of New South Wales, Australia.

“I think the book is something of a one of a kind in the sense that it offers a geographical, urban planning, sociological and cultural/media studies take on the sex industry,” Maginn said. “Relatedly, the mix of topics—sex shops, strip clubs, pornography, BDSM, sex work/prostitution—and the geographical focus—Australia, UK, USA and North Africa—of the various chapters set our book apart from others.”

Maginn will be discussing some of the themes of “(Sub) Urban Sexscapes” in the first Public Forum Lecture of 2015 at 7:30 p.m. this Monday at the Barrick Museum Auditorium on the campus of the University of Nevada-Las Vegas.

The lecture is titled, “(De)Sexualisation and (De)Pornification of Suburbia: Moral and Policy Regulation of Commercial Sex.”

Maginn explained how his UNLV lecture came about. “In 2014 I was planning to spend my sabbatical at San Jose State University during the first half of this year and I outlined my plans to UNLV Professor Barb Brents, who is a contributor to the book."

“And she suggested that I come to UNLV and do a brown bag seminar with her grad students as well as give a formal lecture on the book,” Maginn said. “Prof. Brents managed to secure some funding from the College of Liberal Arts as well as some co-sponsorship from the Departments of Sociology, History, Anthropology, and Gender and Sexuality Studies to assist with my forthcoming visit to UNLV.”

The UNLV lecture “is essentially about trying to highlight the fact that the commercial (and consensual) sex industry, in its various forms, has become increasingly mainstream, socially and economically, over the last decade or so,” Maginn said. “Simultaneously, however, there have been vociferous efforts to regulate different aspects of the sex industry prompted by political, religious and feminist actors and organizations.

“I will be highlighting the nature of these two processes by drawing on examples, as covered in the book plus some other work I have completed on male sex work in Ireland and currently working on.”

In this exclusive Q&A, Maginn discussed his academic roots, what inspired him to focus his research on the sex industry and also his upcoming seminars at UCLA on Jan. 27 and USC on Jan. 28.

XBIZ: Where were you born and raised?

PM: I was born in Belfast, Northern Ireland.

I’m from West Belfast, a working-class, predominantly Catholic and Irish Nationalist/Republican area. I left Northern Ireland in 1996 to study for a PhD in London, UK. And, I have been living in Australia since 2003.

XBIZ: What was your primary field of study in college and what are your academic degrees?

PM: I have three degrees. My undergraduate degree is in geography from the University of Ulster (Coleraine). I then did a Postgraduate Diploma in Town Planning at Queen’s University of Belfast. After working as a research assistant at the University of Ulster (Magee College) for 2-3 years I then moved to London to do my PhD on urban policy at London Southbank University.

In short, I see myself as a geographer-planner, hence my Twitter handle @planographer.

XBIZ: What was it that made you gravitate toward this unique research of the sex industry? What is your inspiration for it?

PM: I got into researching the sex industry because I’m fascinated by all things urban politics. As a geographer-planner when commercial sex industry premises such as adult stores, strip clubs or brothels manifest in the urban landscape they tend to be highly politicized. This is not that surprising given that sex and sexuality still tend to be taboo topics, despite the sexual revolution of the late 1960s.

Whilst living in London it became apparent to me that the city was a very sexualized space what with the sex shops, gay bars, peep shows and strip clubs in places like Soho, the West End and the City. This was a world away from anything in Belfast at the time.

It was when I moved to Australia in the early 2000s that my research interest in the sex industry really began to take root. I noticed that there were sex shops in the CBD and the suburbs. And, there were various brothels scattered around Perth and Adelaide where I have lived during my time here in Australia.

I vividly recall having a discussion with a former colleague in Adelaide about wanting to do something on the “(de)pornification” of Hindley Street. Hindley Street is a major entertainment precinct in the Adelaide CBD with bars, sex shops and strips clubs — the most famous being the Crazy Horse. I was fascinated that a relatively small and small ‘c’ conservative city like Adelaide was so sexualized and wanted to know more.

XBIZ: In what other areas have you conducted research or has the sex industry always been your focus?

PM: All of my research, academic and consultancy, has essentially focused on what I call ‘contentious policy issues’. These have included: (i) housing issues for Irish Travellers/Gypsies; (ii) sectarianism amongst young children in Northern Ireland; (iii) racial attitudes amongst young children in England; (iv) homelessness and administrative justice; (v) refugees and housing; (vi) metropolitan planning; (vii) ethnic and cultural diversity; and (viii) gender representation in local politics.

XBIZ: How did the idea for this book come about? How did you come to collaborate with Christine Steinmetz? What previous books have you published or is this your first?

PM: This is my fourth co-edited book. Of the other three books one was on planning in Australia and the other two were on research methods in urban policy and housing policy.

The genesis of this book stems back to an urban planning conference in New Zealand in late 2010 where I met my co-editor, Dr. Christine Steinmetz (University of New South Wales) for the first time. It transpired that we were both looking to undertake some exploratory work on the geography and regulation of sex shops in Perth and Sydney. We had written a short op-ed piece on the changing nature of sex shops in Australia and secured a small grant from Christine’s university that allowed us to collect data on all sorts of commercial sex premises in Sydney.

The data was collected with the view to presenting a paper at the 2012 Association of American Geographers conference in New York. I thought it would be a good idea to actually hold a special session at the conference devoted to the geographies of the sex industry. So, we issued a call for papers for a special session entitled Erotic Cities: Geographies of the Sexual Economy.

We had a very positive response to this call with around 12 papers being initially submitted. By the time the conference came round eight papers were presented.

Following on from the conference we sought to try and get the eight papers plus three others that we had recruited published as a special issue in an academic journal. The journal we approached weren’t so keen on the idea so we went back to the drawing board. We subsequently decided to submit a book proposal to Routledge, one of the world’s largest academic publishers. They sent the proposal out to two academic reviewers who, thankfully, saw merit in the proposal and recommended that it be published. The rest is history as they say!

XBIZ: How long did it take to research and edit this collection of case studies?

PM: We signed the book contract around March 2013. As the book is an edited volume with chapters from different contributors, draft and revised chapters all came in at different times. We had a full set of final draft chapters by February 2014. Final proofs were completed by July 2014 and the book came out in October 2014.

XBIZ: What was the most challenging part of this?

PM: I have to say there wasn’t anything particularly challenging about doing this book. We had to do some intensive editing but this was to ensure that there was a consistent style and feel to the book.

XBIZ: What is the most rewarding part?

PM: There are a couple of particularly rewarding aspects to this book. First, it was great to work with such a diverse and interesting mix of Australian and international researchers. This has helped forge new friendships and set the ground for developing research collaborations with several of the contributors.

This might seem obvious, but Christine and I were both extremely pleased to see the final product. In particular, we had lobbied our publisher that the book warranted a proper cover. They were initially hesitant as (Sub)Urban Sexscapes is part of a wider book series that has its own corporate branding. We managed to convince them and hired a graphic designer to help us come up with some cover designs. Our designer came up with great ideas but we wanted something people would instantly recognize as being associated with the ‘sex industry’. Neon lights do that I think. Hence, thanks to the assistance of Fiona Patten I got permission from Club X, a large adult retail chain here in Australia, to photograph one of their stores here in Perth.

XBIZ: What is the topic of the seminars at UCLA and USC and how did they come about? Where will you be delivering it (what course)?  

PM: The seminars at UCLA and USC will be to grad students and staff from urban planning and geography. … Both seminars will be similar to the UNLV lecture but I will be giving much more emphasis to the urban planning implications and regulations that surround commercial sex industry premises.

The seminars came about following discussions with contacts at UCLA and USC that I would be in town and would they be interested in me doing something on the book to their grad students and staff.

XBIZ: What is your objective with the UNLV lecture and the UCLA and USC seminars? 

PM: In overall terms the objectives of all the talks is to highlight the fact that sex, sexuality and sexual citizenship are important aspects of urban (and rural for that matter) life. Moreover, my aim is to highlight that the public policy regulation of the production and consumption of consensual, commercialized forms of sex needs to be premised on evidence not morality.

XBIZ: Will this tour be your first time speaking at American universities?

PM: I would hardly call my three talks a ‘tour’ per se. I have spoken at U.S. universities before. I did a seminar on the sex industry at San Jose State University back in April 2013 just before the Association of American Geographers conference in Los Angeles. I’m actually developing another book proposal on suburbia with a U.S. colleague, Prof. Katrin Anacker (George Mason University), based on a special session I co-convened that year. I also did a seminar based on my doctoral research to faculty and grad students at UCLA back in late 1999.

XBIZ: What do your plans entail with regard to researching the geography of adult entertainers/entertainment?

PM: I’ve got several ideas developing at the moment on various aspects of the ‘geography of pornography’. For example, I’m interested in trying to demystify the stereotypes that tend to surround adult performers by showing that they are just ordinary people from ordinary backgrounds. I think that many, if not most, people see adult performers as just being that, adult performers. This is a rather one-dimensional view and I think it needs to be dispelled.

Hence, I’m keen to do some work that gets a handle on: (i) the demographic (age, gender, sexuality, race/ethnicity, education, politics etc. etc.) and geographic (where do entertainers comes from; where do they live, etc. etc.) profile of adult performers; (ii) nature and senses of community and social networks amongst performers; and (iii) motivations, experiences and aspirations of being in adult entertainment and beyond.

Another idea revolves around the social and cultural significance and role of adult expos. I will be fleshing this idea out further with Prof. Lynn Comella and Prof. Barb Brents when I am in Las Vegas.

Ultimately, I’m hoping to use my time in Los Angeles and Las Vegas to meet some industry folks with the view to discussing these ideas as well as their own research needs.