Shapeshifting: prostitution and the problem of harm: a discourse analysis of media reportage of prostitution law reform in New Zealand in 2003

Barrington, Jane
Payne, Deborah
Diesfeld, Kate
Item type
Degree name
Master of Health Science
Journal Title
Journal ISSN
Volume Title
Auckland University of Technology

Interpersonal violence and abuse in New Zealand is so widespread it is considered a normative experience. Mental health nurses witnessing the inscribed effects of abuse on service users are lead to consider whether we are dealing with a breakdown of the mind or a breakdown in social or cultural connection (Stuhlmiller, 2003). The purpose of this research is to examine the cultural context which makes violence and abuse against women and children possible. In 2003, the public debate on prostitution law reform promised to open a space in which discourses on sexuality and violence, practices usually private or hidden, would publicly emerge. Everyday discourses relating to prostitution law reform reported in the New Zealand Herald newspaper in the year 2003 were analysed using Foucauldian and feminist post-structural methodological approaches. Foucauldian discourse analysis emphasises the ways in which power is enmeshed in discourse, enabling power relations and hegemonic practices to be made visible. The research aims were to develop a complex, comprehensive analysis of the media discourses, to examine the construction of harm in the media debate, to examine the ways in which the cultural hegemony of dominant groups was secured and contested and to consider the role of mental health nurses as agents of emancipatory political change. Mental health promotion is mainly a socio-political practice and the findings suggest that mental health nurses could reconsider their professional role, to participate politically as social activists, challenging the social order thereby reducing the human suffering which interpersonal violence and abuse carries in its wake.

Foucauldian discourse analysis , Feminist post-structuralism , Prostitution , Mental health nursing , Violent behaviour , Sex workers
Publisher's version
Rights statement