The Strategic Action Field of Sex Work and Sex Trafficking: A Case Study of a Contentious Field in Chicago

  • Theresa AnastiEmail author
Original Paper


This paper looks at organizations working on issues of sex work/sex trafficking in Chicago as a strategic action field (SAF): a space where actors engage in collective action with a shared understanding of the field’s purposes, rules, and norms. Through analysis of SAFs, scholars focus on how actors intersect, manifesting in a context that simultaneously allows for reproducing the status quo, as well as producing social change. Using qualitative interviews with members of this particular SAF in Chicago, I demonstrate how actors in the field use the SAF concept of social skill to control the policy field. The challenger organization in particular uses social skill to exploit exogenous shocks to their advantage, pursuing legitimacy through their alignment with human service nonprofits. This paper concludes with a consideration of the use of SAF theory to dynamic fields such as sex work/sex trafficking, conceptualizing how field-level social change may occur.


Nonprofits Strategic action fields Sex work Field theory 



There is much appreciation for the work that the editors and the two anonymous reviewers did to improve this manuscript. The author would like to thank Jennifer Mosley, Ron Weitzer, and Susan Lambert for earlier comments on this manuscript. The Fahs-Beck Fund for Research and Experimentation pre-dissertation doctoral grant provided necessary financial support for the project. She would like to thank her panel members at ISTR, including the valuable feedback from the chair of the session, Kathy Brock. Members of the Community and Grassroots group of the ARNOVA conference also provided excellent feedback, including the chair of the session, Hector Cordero-Guzman, as did Jennifer Dodge. Angela Kaiser, Sara Terrana, and Joannie Tremblay-Boire provided necessary feedback on earlier versions of this manuscript.


This project was funded by the Fahs-Beck Fund for Research and Experimentation, Number FP062548.

Compliance with Ethical Standards

Conflict of interest

The author declares no conflict of interest in this project.


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Copyright information

© International Society for Third-Sector Research 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Oakland UniversityRochesterUSA

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