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Extracting value from their environment: some observations on pimping and prostitution as entrepreneurship.


Traditionally the underclass are viewed as an economically surplus and thus marginalized social grouping. This paper examines a form of street-level entrepreneurship practiced in an underclass environment, concentrating primarily upon the thriving Scottish city of Aberdeen, but using research material gathered in other British cities. In criminology, of late several academic studies have sought to (re)construct the underclass (Hayward and Yar, 2006; Johnson et al., 2006). Mention of constructionism brings wider socio-cultural issues into play--in popular culture, being of the underclass is synonymous with being streetwise. In entrepreneurial mythology much is made of the streetwise nature of many entrepreneurs. In this paper we therefore consider street-level prostitutes and pimps as entrepreneurial types.

At the outset, this work was conceived as a study of "the pimp as entrepreneur." Although existing studies such as those of Heyl (1978) and Francis (1986) have wrapped the prostitute in the mantle of entrepreneurship, traditionally the pimp has been portrayed as a swaggering, flamboyant, violent, ruthless, calculating, cowardly individual existing at the margins of society. We find it ironic that these words are also commonly used to describe entrepreneurial behaviour. By logical extension it is perhaps plausible (in some cases) to socially reconstruct the pimp as an entrepreneur figure rather than the prostitute. However, as the study progressed we found that concentrating upon the ideal type of pimp and prostitute we encountered obscured appreciation of the entrepreneurial strategies used by many street-level prostitutes and pimps to extract value from their environment. Thus, in seeking to establish whether the pimp (as an ideal type) could be found on the streets of a British city we initially fixated upon floating social constructions of the pimp and the entrepreneur establishing many parallels between the pimp and entrepreneur in both the constructs and literature; however, it was not until we adopted a more holistic view of pimps and their prostitutes by observing them in action in their environment that we came to appreciate the full extent of their entrepreneurial income generating strategies.

This paper resulted from a chance encounter between the authors at a criminology conference. During the ensuing discussions the subject of pimps arose and an area of mutual research interest developed. The second author recounted her research activities into prostitution, articulating that researching prostitution is both ethically and physically dangerous. She told an intriguing tale of the field (in the manner of Van Maannen, 1988) of how when conducting street research she had been physically assaulted and verbally abused by a pimp and his entourage, who were annoyed that she would not pay him for using up his girls' time. These aspects and other ethical issues will be further developed in the methodology section. As experienced researchers, the authors appreciated that gaining research access to an actual pimp would be difficult to negotiate because few would publicly acknowledge this stigmatized label. From this standpoint emerged the idea of conducting a study using observations gathered in the field. This was made possible by the extent of the empirical street research conducted by the second author in American and British cities over a number of years.

This paper has four sections. The first relates to a literature review of the entrepreneurship -prostitution nexus, setting up a theoretical underpinning enabling comparisons to be drawn between the pimp and the entrepreneur. Section two discusses important methodological and ethical issues, whilst section three presents observations gathered during the actual research. Section four discusses the implications of the research and in particular its contribution to entrepreneurship theory.

Understanding the Entrepreneurship-Prostitution Nexus

According to Ringdal (1997) and Van Brunschot et al. (1999: 47), the practice of prostitution has been labeled "the world's oldest profession." Academic appreciation of the entrepreneurship-prostitution nexus is not a new phenomenon and a limited number of studies portray prostitutes and madames as entrepreneurs. Studies that emphasise the entrepreneurial nature of prostitution include those of Heyl (1978) and Francis (1986). However, these studies concentrate upon the female control of prostitution as opposed to the male domination of vulnerable women by pimps.

This section provides a literature review of the entrepreneurship-prostitution nexus concentrating upon the dearth of literature in relation to the pimp as a genre. We adopt the definition posited by Anderson (1995, 2000), for whom entrepreneurship can be articulated as the "creation and extraction of value from an environment." This definition has merit in relation to our analysis of prostitution as entrepreneurship because by its very nature the concept of value remains vague and elusive. Also, Anderson (2000) applies this definition in relation to the notion of periphery, which is also of interest because the periphery is traditionally seen as a poor environment. Prostitutes work on the periphery of legality but still manage to extract value from their environment. However, it is necessary to stress three class-based themes that run through the literature of entrepreneurship (Smith, 2006). These are (1) the focus on the entrepreneurial middle classes; (2) the eulogisation of the working class entrepreneur and its associated storyline of the poor-boy-made-good; and (3) the hagiography of the respectable peasant entrepreneur. These three theoretical frameworks lead us to consider the possibility of underclass entrepreneurship.

Considering the Possibility of an Entrepreneurial Underclass

Emergence, ethnicity and marginality are all hallowed and recurrent themes in entrepreneurial narrative. Nevertheless, it is a valid observation that despite society's fascination with the Algeresque (and cliched) storyline of the poor-boy-made-good, the equally powerful constructions of the entrepreneur as hero, and entrepreneurship as a morally delineated activity, serve to exclude the underclass from a permanent position in entrepreneurship theory. The themes of overcoming poverty, discrimination and blighted education are merely starting points in the epic story that is entrepreneurship. Indeed, entrepreneurship is billed as an escape from an impoverished environment. The entrepreneur is cast as somehow being special, as being different. Seldom is consideration given to the possibility that entrepreneurship may be an integral part in the fabric of underclass existence. Thus the working and middle classes have the entrepreneur as a role model and the under-classes--their criminal counterparts. If the very fabric of society is woven from individual acts of entrepreneurship, why are members of the underclass excluded from this rich tapestry, particularly when eminent economists such as Baumol (1990) accept that entrepreneurship can be productive, unproductive and destructive? For us, prostitution is, at best, an unproductive, and, at worst, a potentially destructive form of entrepreneurship.

Prostitution can be viewed as a deviant behaviour, nevertheless Cloward and Ohlin (1960) argued that some manifestations of deviance are attributable to the presence, or absence, of institutionalised opportunities to achieve culturally preferable results compliant with the "dream of material success and being your own boss." Moreover, Claster (1992: 130) describes the emergence of criminal subcultures where legitimate means for achieving success are inadequate, but illegitimate avenues of prosperity exist such as prostitution, gambling, and illegal drugs. Cloward & Ohlin (1960) argue that the absence of illegal avenues of wealth creation make society worse because the displaced energy is channeled into retreatist (drugs) or conflict (violence) subcultures. Cloward and Ohlin's good versus evil model is built on the premise that "those from the humblest origin aspire at the outset to success as defined by the dominant majority and only resort to delinquent behaviour as barriers arise." These arguments are the criminological equivalent to Baumol's argument that entrepreneurs emerge from all strata of society and that entrepreneurs and criminals come from the same societal pool. Thus, those who live off the immoral earnings of prostitutes can be considered entrepreneurs. Notwithstanding this, there are issues of social constructionism to be considered.

Dealing with the Issue of Social Constructionism

Various conflicting social constructions combine to make consideration of the prostitute and pimp as entrepreneur problematic. These are the socially constructed nature of: entrepreneurship (Chell et al., 2000); the underclass (Morris, 2002); urban space (Baker, 2006); sexuality (Brison, 2001); prostitution and pimping (Van Brunschot et al., 1999).

These often conflicting constructions set up competing narratives, ideologies and social imageries, which are difficult to reconcile. We have already touched upon the predominant social constructions of the entrepreneur as hero and saint and also noted that the underclass (as a genre) are generally not regarded as being entrepreneurial per se. Prostitution is generally regarded as a problem associated with urbanity. Indeed, Baker (2006) makes reference to the social construction of urban space where whores and pimps make a living. In addition, sexuality is a taboo subject as are prostitution and pimping. The prostitute is commonly portrayed in the media as "a morally depraved woman" (Van Brunschot et al., 1999: 56). This particularly gendered social construction is tempered by the caveat that she has been led astray. In the folklore of America, the prostitute is allowed a place alongside the entrepreneur as a folk hero, as evidenced by such ballads as "Hickory Hollers Tramp" (O.C. Smith) where the women is wronged by a philandering, alcoholic husband who leaves her to raise 14 hungry children. She does this by turning to prostitution but remains an all-American mom to be proud of. In a similar manner, Boje (2001: 202) in researching the striptease business in America tells of the "rags to riches story told by big business to attract labor" and of the lure of easy money, citing the movies Showgirls and Gypsy as examples. Boje (2001: 205) eloquently narrates the stories of showgirls selling us the "spectacle of rags to riches, the American Dream realized in the career move from Strip Club to Showgirl, from strip tease to Big Bucks Casino Shows." These examples illustrate how prostitution, like deviance and criminality, can be linked to the American Dream and thus entrepreneurship. However, Van Brunshot et al. (1999) also highlight another social construction, visible in contemporary discourse--namely the prostitute as a deviant and morally depraved junky. The overall tone towards prostitution as socially constructed is that of moral disproval.

The pimp is another stigmatised social construction (Baker, 2006). Pimping runs contrary to accepted masculine doxa of what it means to be a man, making it deeply shameful to live off the immoral earnings of women. Indeed, Paoli (2003: 70) stresses that the Italian Cosa Nostra initially forbade the organization of prostitution as being dishonourable. In a similar vein, Volkov (2002: 104) writing of the Russian Mafiya stresses, "Although quite profitable, prostitution, was regarded as an inferior business, capable of downgrading the relative status of the group, since it lived off women's income." This ingrained stigma may also account for the dearth of studies in relation to pimps per se and may be an artefact of the difficulty in negotiating research access, as few men ever publicly accept the persona. Psychologically, this stigma may run deeper in that Tsang (1996) argues that prostitution is not consistent with dominant Protestant or Catholic values. Ideologically, this makes prostitution incompatible with entrepreneurial ideology with its espousal of morality and reverence of traditional values. Thus in Western societies a number of related factors conspire to drive the entrepreneur in the sex trade underground, or into red-light areas where they are more difficult to research. This further restricts the opportunity of researchers to study prostitutes and pimps as predatory street actors. However, in popular culture, the pimp is commonly portrayed in the media as a pantomime figure, a stereotypical representation of an archetypal figure embedded in the social consciousness. Such misleading ideal typifications, steeped as they are in the semiotics of American street culture, result from a body of socially constructed imagery perpetuated in the media. Such images are misleading because the symbolism and meanings associated with class based semiotics associated with individual ethnic groupings and their cultures do not always transfer across cultures. These stereotypes may indeed obscure from view the fact that, as underclass actors, prostitutes and pimps are economically active and form part of a wider alternative street economy.

However, at an abstract level, these apparently disparate constructs can be linked by the notion of deviance. Nevertheless, theories of entrepreneurship are primarily focused on the individual, their attributes and behaviours and not on the concept of place and environment. As will be seen, the environment is an important element in the social construction of underclass entrepreneurship.

Repositioning the Prostitute within the Entrepreneurial Underclass

Perhaps the most widely known study of the entrepreneurship-prostitution nexus was that of Heyl (1978) in her seminal study "The Madame as Entrepreneur." However, Heyl had preceded this study with a similar one in 1977 entitled "The Madame as Teacher." This is a significant distinction because it acknowledges the divisions of practice and takes cognizance of the different roles the madame performs in separating the craft side of prostitution from its practice as a business. Both activities are examples of co-terminus social organization. The madame and the brothel play a central role in the organization of prostitution primarily because they create a different, more controlled dynamic from the street prostitutes surveyed in this study. The presence of a madame and the semi-legitimacy of the brothel reconstruct the sexual experience in a more civilized manner. The "woman to woman" engagement literally takes the "man" out of "management" and the girls away from the domination and violence of the pimp. An appreciation of the madame as an entrepreneur also has other historical precedents. Indeed, Hudson (2002) discusses the remarkable life story of Mary Ellen Pleasant, born a slave but as a free woman achieved entrepreneurial success. She developed the trusting persona of "Mammy" and transformed prostitution in San Fransico, becoming an entrepreneur and literate abolitionist.

Other academics have sought to reconstruct prostitution as entrepreneurship. Francis (1986) researched "The street queen as a sexual entrepreneur," and Phillip and Dann (1998) describe the bar girls/prostitutes in central Bangkok as entrepreneurs. To continue this theme, Hershatter (1989) discusses the role of the petty entrepreneur in a historical perspective in the hierarchy of Shanghai prostitution between 1870 and 1949. Sun (2002) discussed Anhui women as invisible entrepreneurs because of their gender in a patriarchal China, classing those in domestic servitude and those engaged in prostitution as being entrepreneurs without an enterprise. This is significant from the perspective of underclass entrepreneurship because Arlacchi (1986) in researching the Italian peasant also considered this possibility. This point introduces the concept of subsistence entrepreneurship. Indeed, Valenzuela (2001) argued with some conviction that the literature of entrepreneurship is primarily elitist, concentrating upon proprietorship and does not engage with the activities of the underclass. Valenzuela (2001) classified these workers under the disadvantageous rubric of survivalist entrepreneurs. This label could equally apply to the street prostitute and the pimp. The idea that prostitution is a form of entrepreneurship is fast gaining momentum as evidenced by three recent studies by Della Giusta et al. (2007, forthcoming and forthcoming) who seek to explore prostitution from an economic and thus entrepreneurial perspective. Indeed, Della Giusta et al. (2007) refer to prostitution as a denied industry and interestingly talk of feminist economics. This is relevant because entrepreneurship is studied from the perspective of masculine economics.

Schaab (2005) stresses that the types of work offered to women who lack education often pay significantly less than what a man would make as a laborer, therefore making prostitution a viable proposition. This example illustrates the disparity between feminine and masculine economics. Schaab introduces the concept of social capital into the argument by the use of the phrase "Her Body, His Capital." This begs the question of whose capital one has to consider in assessing entrepreneurial proclivity? Bourdieu (1986) posited different categories of capital--financial, social, and human. Pimping spans all three and, because of street encounters, involves an unwritten triadic contract and often a clash of capitals. Emotional capital may also come into play in the relationship if a love interest is involved between the pimp and prostitute.

However, the Madame and pimp are not the only entrepreneurial typologies available to those engaged in the sex industry. Indeed, Van der Poel (1992) stresses that male prostitution is generally regarded as a deviant, challenging activity and argues that this is so because researchers concentrate upon problematic categories and have avoided studying successful male prostitutes who may naturally be more enterprising. Van der Poel studied male prostitution as a career choice in Amsterdam, a rational commercial service-orientated business with economic and social characteristics in common with other small and medium sized businesses. The successful gigolo can also be socially reconstructed as a predatory entrepreneurial type.

Considering the Pimp as Entrepreneur

Although men do not appear to willingly accept the title of pimp, other acceptable masculine labels exist, namely "Hustler" and "Player." These labels are also commonly used to describe entrepreneurs. Academic studies of hustling abound (Steward, 1991; Wright and Colhoun, 2001; and Gates, 2004). Wright and Calhoun (2001), using an ethnographic approach, profile the activities of Tyrone, a hoodlum who is a part-time pimp and hustler, and of Oscar, who describes himself as being kind of entrepreneur, both operating out of a barber shop in a southern American city. The shop provides three levels of activity, namely legal, quasi-legal and illegal services. Indeed, Gates (2004) writes of young black kids having a new entrepreneurial spirit. Desman (n.d.) discusses the socio-pathology of entrepreneurs and criminals and states that prostitution, bootlegging, black-marketing, and illicit gambling are common delinquent threads running through both genres. Furthermore, Kloosterman (2001) describes prostitution as an easy market for immigrant entrepreneurs to engage in because of its ease of accessibility and lack of start up capital required. Prostitution enables entrepreneurs to extract large profits from the work of women under their control thereby accumulating a considerable amount of capital quickly. Furthermore, Butkevich and Storr (2001) discuss entrepreneurs as cultural characters, noting how in hostile environments they adapt to the opportunities available even if that entails pimping or thieving. This again resonates with the work of Baumol (1999).

On the Importance of Place

Place is important because it links in with social constructionism. Moreover, as this study takes place at a street level it makes it incumbent upon us to understand the influence of place. Rojeck and Urry (1997: 7) discuss how traditionally, since Victorian times, the street has been reconstructed as a dangerous playground for the rich and the middle classes--a "fantasy land" where one can engage with prostitutes. The street scenario is enacted as a socially constructed script in which the pimp, prostitute and the punter know their place. There is a symbiotic element present whereby all accrue benefit in the manner of a relation of exchange as envisaged by Volkov (2002: 25). This concept lies at the very core of this paper and is central to understanding prostitution and pimping as entrepreneurship because Volkov (2002: 15) talks of the "city as a market place for needs" and of "free economies of exchange." For entrepreneurship to occur there must be a taking between and an exchange of value(s). Furthermore, Volkov (2002: 21) refers to "Predatory man." This phraseology is relevant because it encompasses the pimp as entrepreneur and the customer as punter. The prostitute is also a predator because customers are merely pound notes or dollar bills or "Mugs" and "Punters" as envisaged by Hobbs (1986) who populate the lowest level of his entrepreneurial scale. Nor does social constructionism end there, because a form of living street theatre ensues whereby all three have to look and act the part. The pimp has to be recognisable as such to act as a visual deterrent; the prostitute has to look risque; and the punter knows that he will fare better if he is mild mannered and well dressed. The pimp and prostitute scan the environment looking for deviations from this well-rehearsed social script in case their quarry are undercover police or other predators. The pimp must project an aura of latent violence; the prostitute must exude a halo of dangerous sexuality; and the punter must project a suitably subdued and ashamed persona. If all stick to the script then the three actors collectively create and extract value from the environment (as envisaged by Anderson, 1995).

As this study is set in a British context it is necessary to consider entrepreneurship, prostitution and pimping from a cultural perspective because so far many of the studies of prostitution as entrepreneurship have been American or Asian. Sociologists writing about class in a British context have long appreciated that prostitution allowed many poor married working-class women and widows an avenue out of poverty. Indeed, Bourke (1994: 38) reminds us that many working-class women "sought social mobility through prostitution, using the job to save money to buy a tobacconist shop or simply to live at a higher standard of luxury." Nevertheless, other historical studies shed light on the issue of underclass enterprise and particularly those who engage in prostitution or live off immoral earnings. One classic study is that of Quennell (1960) who presented selected sections of the original works of the Victorian researcher Henry Mayhew. In this work, Quennell (1960: 103) discusses the roles of such enterprising street actors as procuresses, pimps, bullies, clandestine prostitutes, fancy men and panderers, and in doing so paints a vivid word picture of self-enterprise at street level. Interestingly, Mayhew (no doubt influenced by his exposure to Victorian masculine doxa and the socially constructed nature of Victorian sexuality) had little to say about the subject of pimps. Despite acknowledging that they were frequently spoken about, he preferred to doubt that many actually existed, stressing that women were more likely to act as pimps than men. We believe that this was merely an early example of how social constructionism, combined with masculine doxa, influenced the middle class research gaze because professional Victorian men could not envisage men acting in such an ungentlemanly manner. Like Mayhew before us, we went in search of the elusive pimp. In seeking to reconstruct the pimp as an entrepreneur, it is necessary to stipulate that there is no one all-defining definition of entrepreneurship. In the literature, particularly in the British context, one senses a pejorative attitude towards the entrepreneur articulated so succinctly by Baker (in Chapman, 1968: 9), who describes "the petty entrepreneurs and the slick smart Alecs of Grab Street who thrive on the society who spawns them."

Having considered the entrepreneurship-prostitution nexus and issues of social constructionism and class, it is helpful to discuss ethical issues that impinge upon this research.

Ethical Issues

The purpose of this section is to discuss ethical issues relating to this research and to develop an appreciation of street-level entrepreneurship. The research raises a number of ethical issues of interest to other researchers. The first relates to issues of access. As stated in researching elusive social groups, such as pimps, it can be difficult to gain research access. The second author has conducted numerous research forays into areas where street prostitution is carried out, both in the US and in major cities in the UK. Such research can lead to conflict with other street stakeholders. One simply cannot just turn up and start asking questions of pimps without becoming an accepted part of the street scene because street-girls are adept at telling people what they want to hear. One has to earn their respect by talking to them and demonstrating that as a researcher you know what you are speaking about. Confidences are not developed instantly. It can take many evenings.

It is also a dangerous activity. On one occasion when conducting research, the second author became involved in an altercation with a pimp who was annoyed that she was taking up the time of his girls. He demanded payment. When this was refused he assaulted her. Nosy researchers are bad for business. It is simply not ethical to offer payment for research access. This led to her taking the unusual step of hiring the services of a bodyguard for protection. When conducting research it is easy to lose focus of everything but one's respondent. However, this also has the effect of changing the street dynamic because the bodyguard can be mistaken for a "Minder." It would be easy for other street actors to misread the signs. The consequences could have serious ramifications because they could be mistaken for competition by other firms of villains. Yet, there is simply no other way.

On several occasions the second author has encountered hostility from street cops who cannot understand her presence on their streets. This is despite having a policy of writing to the individual forces expressing her intentions. She has been threatened with arrest and has had to stand her ground when told in no uncertain terms to leave the area. This takes dedication and courage. As a result the prostitutes and pimps now treat her with a wary respect. However, if her bodyguard was attacked and had to defend himself she could find herself in court having to defend her actions. This makes the research all the more ethically and physically dangerous. Understandably, her research practices, bold as they are, do not ingratiate her with the pimps.

Observations on Pimping and Prostitution

This section reports on the empirical research conducted by the second author. We are aware that in choosing to research street level prostitution we may have limited our chances of encountering examples of entrepreneurship because of the stratified nature of the organization of prostitution. Gutauskas et al. (2004: 213), who studied prostitution in Lithuania, stress that it is conducted on three distinct levels: the lowest tier being drug addicts and the homeless; the second tier being those who prostitute themselves in bars, restaurants, and hotels without a pimp; and the third and most profitable form of prostitution is organised and conducted by pimps. Most Lithuanian pimps supervise from seven to 10 prostitutes and can take from 50% to 70% of the money generated by the prostitute (Gutauskas et al., 2004: 213-14). This model is almost universal in western countries.

Although the research is set in Aberdeen, the second author has conducted research in London, Manchester, Hull, Edinburgh (Leith), and Glasgow. This underpins the findings in relation to Aberdeen. Leith is the least accommodating alongside Manchester to research because both are major cities with extreme drug-related problems. Manchester, however, is mainly more problematic because of the obvious presence of the pimps who are more than willing to show the girls precisely who is in charge. Glasgow girls also appear to be more willing to risk their safety, whereas Edinburgh ladies use networking and converse with each other using mobile phones and texts to warn each other of problem customers or perverts. This example of entrepreneurial cooperation does reduce the need for an individual minder/pimp and obviously increases their earning power by cutting out the middleman.

Aberdeen is a major city and is the third largest in Scotland, after Glasgow and Edinburgh. It has a population of 202,370. It is a relatively wealthy city, being the oil capital of Europe, and has a large thriving seaport and vibrant industries. As is the case in many major cities, prostitution is stratified. There are several lap-dancing bars, which comprise the legal side of the sex industry. According to one respondent, there is a street trade in rent-boys and male prostitutes carried out discretely in the city centre. There are also several brothels in the west end of the city reputedly owned and organised by businessmen. These tend to service a wealthy middle-class clientele and the prostitutes are more up-market, often students paying their own way through university. The businessman acts as a father figure and mentor. As an aside, there is a suggestion that Eastern European organized crime groups have set up brothels run by pimps (along the lines of those described by Gutauskas et al., 2004). An interesting aspect is that for an additional fee the proprietors of the brothels videotape the encounter and hand the customers a CD or video to take home and watch later. This is clear evidence of entrepreneurial strategies in action. Aberdeen has a tolerance zone/red light district situated (where the trade had traditionally been operated) in the harbour area. Other Scottish cities such as Glasgow and Edinburgh had tolerance zones but abandoned them. The tolerance zone makes researching prostitution easier and less dangerous. Prior to discussing the pimps themselves it is helpful to discuss the street based prostitutes.

Prostitutes and Street Prostitution

The street prostitutes surveyed operated in the tolerance zone. In relation to Scotland it is difficult to find the average street prostitute because of the different geographic areas and regional differences and socio-cultural settings. The most visible girls tend to be older than they look. Amean age in Glasgow is 23, whilst in Edinburgh it is 27. Almost all of the prostitutes surveyed were on drugs or alcohol, or both. This is in line with research that suggests that 97% of street prostitutes in Britain have drug misuse issues. Only two prostitutes claim never to have used drugs and hope to avoid it in the future. They acknowledge that they are exceptions.

All but one in Aberdeen are White. In Edinburgh, Glasgow and Dundee they are all White. Most have poor communication skills, though this is likely to be more attributable to their constant drug/alcohol use than any reflection on their intellectual capacity. One older and articulate prostitute (aged 47) displays remarkable business acumen but lacks the drive and/or funds to get started. Many prostitutes narrate a background of abuse both physical and sexual. The women surveyed come from different socio-economic backgrounds with the middle class and even upper class being represented. Interestingly, drug use had brought them to the streets, resulting in their families ignoring their existence. Glasgow in particular had a high proportion--in fact all the women spoken to had been sexually abused as children, either by a relative, family friend or other person in authority. 75% of those in Glasgow had been raised in a local authority home, and of those three quarters had removed themselves and lived on the streets before they reached 16 years of age. In contrast, in Edinburgh only 25% had been subjected to sexual abuse as a child whereas one third claimed to have had no abuse. Heroin was the most commonly used drug, though cocaine was used by approximately 25% of all Scottish prostitutes surveyed. Other drugs, including prescription medication, were also used when available but particularly when their main choice was not obtainable due to lack of funds or scarcity. There is thus no 'typical' street prostitute. Many common threads tie them together, but equally many keep them apart. Many choose not to disclose their history for various reasons and others tell different stories to different people/agencies. Alcohol and drug use are common, but again not every prostitute has an addiction; one or two (claim) to have overcome their addiction but still solicit because the money is better than state benefits. Pathways into prostitution are complicated.

The Traditional Pimp

The traditional pimp-prostitute relationship is a coercive (predatory) relationship entailing luring vulnerable girls and women into relationships. The pimp acts as a lover and undermines the confidence of the girl generally through abusive bullying and violent behaviour and coerces her into acting as a prostitute. The relationship may become that of entrepreneur-lover. In Aberdeen, Edinburgh and Glasgow there is not a culture of pimping in the traditional sense we understand exists in other countries. Thus the authors did not encounter stereotypical pimps and certainly no flamboyant examples such as those encountered whilst researching in America. This is to be expected because it demonstrates the ideal typification of the pimp as socially constructed. Such images are caricatures, grotesque parodies of the American Dream. Nevertheless, it must be remembered that in its place within the culture that spawned it, does have a currency as street "cred." In Britain very few of the pimps observed fit this ideal typification.

In Britain, the vast majority of pimps observed are more careful about flaunting their occupation for obvious reasons. No metallic pink Mercedes cars with alloys, no fur coats or white suits. Such pretensions do not sit well with the British psyche and are bad for business because they attract unwanted police attention, not to mention ridicule. Instead, the British pimp carefully cultivates the regional variation of their hard-man image. This is evidence of the rationalisation of conduct to maximise the extraction of value (and thus entrepreneurship). At another level many pimps have other income streams such as drug dealing, smuggling contraband, extortion and so forth in which prostitution is but one part of their business portfolio. These illegal entrepreneurial activities qualify them for consideration of being criminal entrepreneurs. It could be argued that the traditional pimp provides an entrepreneurial service to their prostitutes if both are engaged in a joint enterprise.

There are quite considerable regional variations (as one would expect). Those areas where the pimps are more overt in their actions and behaviour are places such as parts of London, Manchester, Hull and parts of Newcastle. Here their dress style and their behaviour patterns are quite different. They dress in a more obvious business style with business suits worn with a somewhat crass style and jewellery (bling). Their vehicles tend to be Range Rovers and other large 4X4 vehicles. Occasionally, for those individuals who are less inclined to show their money, or because of financial constraints, cars are made to look more "high end" than they actually are--such as making the exhaust bigger/ louder, etc. The pimps also tend to work in groups of more than two in these areas. These are the most obvious entrepreneurial types, the top end of the entrepreneurial scale--boys doing business (Newburn and Stanko, 1995), controlling their assets. Teamworking is evident and the atmosphere is tense. In the larger cities in England such as Manchester and Liverpool pimps adopt a gangstery persona. This was not found to be the case in Aberdeen or other Scottish cities.

It may well be that the girls surveyed are reluctant to admit that their partner is a pimp. Those girls who do admit this (primarily those from south of the border) tend to be more wearily resigned to their role as "worker" though many still defend the pimp and his actions (e.g. they are violent, but the girls--like many in domestic situations--blame themselves for making their men angry). Also, the pimps--according to the girls--do a good job in protecting them, but again they acknowledge that they work harder and longer than they probably would if they had no one there. They also admit that they are annoyed about giving their money away, but many feel there's no alternative or--more importantly--no escape. In the night-time economy the streets of our major cities can be dangerous places. Alcohol- and drug-fuelled violence is often unleashed as well as verbal abuse, taunts and disrespect. Thus it could be argued that some pimps do provide a service to the girls, allowing them to work unmolested. However, in Scotland the predominance is for the consensual boyfriend-girlfriend variety.

Pimp-prostitute Partnerships

These are generally partners in life and in crime. The prostitution is merely another income stream to provide money for drugs and feeding the children. Such partners are usually in their mid 20s or slightly older. They are either generally from established criminal families or have gravitated from a criminal culture of drug abuse and alcohol dependency, and usually both have criminal records for petty crime such as assault, theft by shoplifting, robbery, carrying weapons and other street crimes. The main point is that both partners are streetwise and come to the realization through life experience that selling sex is easier and less risky than committing street crimes because the penalties are lower. Those girls who work with "boyfriends" are grateful for their presence as it makes them feel safer. These are exploitative but protective partners who use sex as a strategy to provide the wherewithal to obtain alcohol and drug money. The boyfriend acts as driver, minder and negotiator. Turning a few tricks to them is less immoral than robbing or stealing. This particular dynamic seems to be applicable in Aberdeen and Leith (Edinburgh), whereas Glasgow appears to have a mixture of consensual and non-consensual partnerships underway. The prostitution provides a stability of income in an otherwise chaotic lifestyle. It can break the vicious cycle of crime, court appearances, and jail. Admittedly it is an illegal form of subsistence entrepreneurship. These low-level street entrepreneurs are entrenched in the underclass milieu and are unlikely to climb the entrepreneurial ladder to success. Such pimp-prostitute partnerships can be viewed as being co-preneurial couples as envisaged by Marshack (1973). These couples are usually husbands and wives or long-term common law partners, although the authors are aware of a case study where a man was pimping a very young-looking girl in Aberdeen. The girl looked well under 16 and her protector was in fact a father figure. Enquiry with other prostitutes confirmed that this was indeed her father, who was exploiting the fact that the 17-year-old looked much younger and therefore fetched a higher price. Leaving aside issues of morality, it is evidence of entrepreneurial guile.

This is a very different dynamic because the boyfriend will not adopt the street persona of a pimp, nor engage in the visual semiotics of bragging associated with that genre. It also makes the prosecution of pimping very difficult from a policing perspective because it is difficult to prove that the boyfriend is living beyond their means--the ethos behind this genre of prostitutes is summed up by Sterk (n.d.) as "Tricking and Tripping." Hunt (1990) argues that the link between drug-taking and prostitution has turned prostitution into a more consensual crime and discusses how drugs lure female addicts into committing a battery of crimes such as prostitution, robbery, shoplifting and burglary. Hunt also stresses that the street-level drug dealer is often an individual entrepreneur who is in a position to use his near monopoly to his advantage. This frenetic activity is an entrepreneurial activity because it is the extraction of multiple income streams as envisaged by Carter et al. (2004). Their activity is a risk based opportunity model of income generation. However, the need to achieve is mood driven because once they have earned sufficient income to meet their needs they stop working (see Figure 1 for a visual representation of street level entrepreneurship achieved via extracting multiple income streams).


The Pimp as an Entrepreneur of Violence

The pimp can also be regarded as an entrepreneur of violence by extending Vladim Volkov's (2002) concept of "violent entrepreneurship." For Volkov (2002: 25), violent entrepreneurship is a legitimate method of extracting income. The anthropologist Anton Blok (1972) also used the term to describe a particular genre of Italian Mafioso as "violent peasant entrepreneurs." Volkov (2002: xiii-xiv) refers to an "exclusively male world where male virtues associated with violent contest prevail." This aptly describes the violent underworld domain inhabited by the pimps in our study. The pimps observed could be described as entrepreneurs of violence because to them violence was merely another commodity to exploit as a form of exploitable social capital, which gives them leverage to extract value from their environment. The girls are commodities to be bought and sold. Violence and threats are used to protect their property (the girls) and their patch, and to punish the girls if they step out of line. As entrepreneurs of violence the pimps use their reputations, social capital and social skills to dominate their environment. In doing so they shape their professional and personal identities, both of which revolve around being the man. Thus the semiotics of gangsterism and machismo combine to present a culturally credible symbolism enabling and empowering them to control their environment physically, mentally and symbolically. These are thus techniques and stratagems for the maintenance of masculine dominance.

The pimps observed during this study can be classified as entrepreneurs at many different levels--as entrepreneurs of violence, or as enterprising individuals or couples capitalising on their specific socio-cultural capital. Alternatively, others are businessmen or criminal entrepreneurs.

Concluding Observations

This paper contributes to extant knowledge by developing an appreciation of street-level entrepreneurs who operate in a shadow economy. There are limitations to the research practices of observing and street-level interviewing. It does not permit direct access to pimps, nor does it allow one to research the dynamics of mixed entrepreneurial income streams. Many questions remain unanswered: Is it their main income generation activity or do they have multiple income streams? Are these all illegal or do they bolster legal entrepreneurial incomes? Also, how do pimps reinvest their earnings? Do they reinvest it in small businesses (shops, taxi firms, etc.) or is it their undeclared beer-money to reinvest in hedonistic lifestyles--partying, drug misuse, gambling, betting, expensive restaurants? If this is the case then the illegal money re-circulates in the legal economy. Are all pimps men? Do women use violence to gain competitive entrepreneurial advantage? Do they make the girls work double shifts or in other avenues in the sex industry? The answer to these questions and others requires further research using different methodologies and techniques, making it a legitimate field of research because entrepreneurship is not merely found in legal commerce or in small and family businesses.

Another interesting avenue of research lies in exploring the modus vivendi pimps and other street entrepreneurs have with street actors such as taxi drivers, pub owners, hotel concierges and even street cops. Is this space achieved via bribes, payments, or by the sheer force of personal magnetism? Or is it achieved by the projection of a hardman image and a reputation for extreme violence? It would be also beneficial to research the link between libido and entrepreneurial proclivity because the pimp, through the prostitute, provides a basic human need.

We found little evidence of the (elusive) archetypal pimp in Aberdeen or other Scottish cities. We cannot state categorically that they do not exist, but they are certainly elusive. From our research it appears that the typical pimp in Scotland is more likely to be a boyfriend or father figure. Nevertheless, our research also demonstrates that there is evidence of individual entrepreneurship manifested at a street level. Therefore, it can be argued with some justification that some pimps (but not all) are entrepreneurs. The pimps and prostitutes surveyed for this study make a living out of the exchange by extracting value from an environment and some even practice entrepreneurship as envisaged by Anderson (1995).

In writing the paper we were struck by the recurring theme of morality and how and why pimping and prostitution are accorded various moral statuses. However, the relationship between entrepreneurship and morality is very complicated. This caused us to question the connection between entrepreneurship and morality or whether it is a stance adopted by the wider populace that bears little, if anything, to do with the act of enterprising. Might entrepreneurship, in other words, be conceived of as a morally neutral act which adds or extracts social value accordingly? Entrepreneurship is an amoral concept but paradoxically entrepreneurs are not amoral or neutral--they are either imbued with morals or they are not. Arguably, as entrepreneurial processes--opportunity identification and exploitation are also neutral it is merely the evaluation placed upon it by the entrepreneurs, their peers and society which is morally laden. The notion that entrepreneurship need not be as Anderson (1995) suggests the creation and extraction from an environment but the extraction of value is a significant step forward from the original definition. The significance of criminal/deviant entrepreneurship lies within the entrepreneur and not the concept. It is only how it is operationalised that differs.


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Contact Information

For further information on this article, contact:

Robert Smith, The Charles P. Skene Centre for Entrepreneurship, Aberdeen Business School, The Robert Gordon University, Aberdeen, AB10 7QE


Maria L Christou, Criminologist and Independent Academic


Robert Smith, The Charles P. Skene Centre for Entrepreneurship, Aberdeen Business School, The Robert Gordon University, Aberdeen, Scotland

Maria L. Christou, Criminologist and Independent Academic
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Author:Smith, Robert; Christou, Maria L.
Publication:Journal of Small Business and Entrepreneurship
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Date:Jan 1, 2009
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