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Soho’s unseen story uncovered by new book

  • Date

    Wed 12 Feb 20

Photo of a Soho street

On the one hand it’s a thriving, close-knit ‘village’ steeped in culture and history. On the other it’s a globally recognised part of the commercial sex industry. So what’s it like to work in Soho?

A new book, Soho at Work – Pleasure and Place in Contemporary London is the result of a ten-year ethnographic study of Soho as a unique place whose economy is driven by sex and pleasure.

Written by Professor Melissa Tyler from Essex Business School and grounded in her expertise in work and organisation studies, the book combines literary archive and photographic materials with multiple interviews with the men and women who work in Soho’s sex shops.

It looks back across four centuries worth of history, and details Soho’s phoenix-like response to all the attempts to sanitise it or sweep it away altogether. It also celebrates its reputation as a place where different social, cultural and professional communities have come together to live, work and look out for each other.

To complete the study, Professor Tyler spent hundreds of hours immersing herself in Soho life; from frequenting its bars and cafes to unpacking stock in the sex shops.

Speaking about her experience, Professor Tyler said: “For almost 500 years Soho has been a place of complexity, contrast and change. Throughout that time, urban branding, local community initiatives and licensing regulations have frequently combined in a bid to try and ‘clean up’ Soho - arguably to the point of sanitisation, and commercial over-development remains a continuing threat.

“The latest threat of course is the ongoing development of London’s Crossrail network. There is concern that the accessibility the development is likely to bring to Soho might threaten its geographically protected status.

“In spite of all this, to date, Soho retains its edge and remains a unique place to live, work and consume. I wanted to provide a snapshot of Soho now, as a place where history, geography and culture have come together to shape the experiences of those who work there.”

Soho is the area of London that is bound to the north by Oxford Street, to the west by Regent Street, to the east by Charing Cross Road and to the south by Shaftesbury Avenue.

Professor Tyler’s research focuses on gender, feminist theory and the body in work and organisational settings; emotion, aesthetics and sexuality in the workplace and organisational spaces.

Soho at Work is published by Cambridge University Press and is available now.