Sex work, digital rights and freedoms: Creating safer online working environments across Europe.

University of Sheffield

Sex work, digital rights and freedoms: Creating safer online working environments across Europe.
Department of Sociological Studies
PhD Research Project Competition Funded Students Worldwide
 Dr Laura Connelly
Application Deadline: 27 March 2023


The Department of Sociological Studies is offering a funded PhD studentship under the White Rose Doctoral Training Partnership (WRDTP) Collaborative Awards Scheme.

The project

Digital technologies – particularly the Internet and smartphones – have dramatically reshaped how sexual services are bought and sold, with the digitalisation of sex work gathering pace as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic. Although the shift to digital platforms has brought benefits to sex workers, emergent forms of both online and ‘digitally mediated’ sex work transform the existing challenges for sex workers and introduce new difficulties in relation to censorship, privacy, data protection and intellectual property rights.

This collaborative project in partnership with the European Sex Workers’ Rights Alliance (ESWA) will support ESWA’s ongoing work to ensure that the experiences and rights of sex workers are fully recognised and protected in discussions and measures to safeguard digital freedoms and privacy. In order to do so, the studentship will explore how sex workers experience the laws and policies governing digital platforms across Europe, and what changes may be required to the regulation of digital sex work platforms to improve sex workers’ rights and safety.

The successful candidate will benefit from supervision from Dr Laura Connelly (University of Sheffield), Professor Kate Hardy (University of Leeds) and Luca Stevenson (ESWA). Although based in Sociological Studies at the University of Sheffield, the successful candidate will have strong links with the University of Leeds Business School. They will have access to a range of training and development opportunities, including through the WRDTP Data, Communication and New Technologies Pathway. Through the collaborative partnership, the successful candidate will undertake three placements at ESWR to promote knowledge exchange.

This studentship is available on a 1+3 or +3 basis. It is available on both a full time or part-time basis, and is open to home and overseas candidates that meet the ESRC eligibility criteria.

Admission Criteria

 A strong first degree (2.1 or a first class honours) ideally in a relevant social science subject.

 Candidates applying on a +3 basis must have obtained at least a Merit (or equivalent) at Master’s level and must have at least 60 credits at Master’s level of core social sciences research methods training.

 For those candidates for whom English is not their first language or who do not possess a degree from an educational institution using the English language for instruction, candidates must meet the minimum IELTS requirement for their department of application.

How to apply

Applications should be made to [email protected] no later than Monday 27th March at 9am GMT.

To apply, please submit the following:

 A 500-word personal statement explaining how your skills, experiences, interests and career plans make you a suitable candidate for the studentship.

 An outline (2 pages of A4) of how you would approach the project including: an indication of any literature and/or theories that you think will be especially relevant for this project, some indicative research questions, proposed methods, and a brief reflection on ethics.

 Short-listed applicants will be invited to an online interview on Monday 3rd April.

If you have any questions or would like an informal conversation about the project, please contact Dr Laura Connelly on [email protected]

Funding Notes

The studentship entails a standard UKRI stipend for each year of the award, pro-rata for part-time study and full tuition fees for the duration of the award, payable at the home or international rate as appropriate.
The studentship UKRI rates for 2022/23 ESRC studentships were:
Fees £4,596; Stipend £17,668 per annum. A Research Training Support Grant (RSTG) is also available.
The rates for 2023/24 are yet to be released.

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