Erica MacDonald Awarded 2020 Dissertation Writing Fellowship


Erica MacDonald is a Ph.D. Candidate in the department of Political Science in the subfields of comparative politics and international relations at the University of Connecticut. Her research interests include human rights, labor, sex work, gender, institutions and social movements.

About her dissertation:

In “Formally Informal: Sex Work, Stigma and Institutions” I examine how different regulatory models governing sex work impact the rights of sex workers. Specifically, I focus on two cases, Nevada and New South Wales, and the aim of my dissertation is two-fold.

The first aim is to highlight the limits of extant legal frameworks in Nevada and New South Wales. Despite recognition as legitimate workers in a formal sector, sex workers are often excluded from accessing institutions that are meant to protect their social and economic rights. Drawing from semi-structured interviews, participant observation, and archival material, I demonstrate how the stigmatization of sex work(ers) creates significant barriers for rights protections in both legal contexts.

The second aim is to develop an agent-based theory of institutional creation focused on the innovative ways that sex workers overcome exclusion from existing institutions. I use theoretical concepts from the social and economic rights literature, and New Institutionalism to analyze how sex workers collectively organize to create their own institutions to support, protect, and fulfill their economic and social rights. Through my analysis, I demonstrate the importance of decriminalization as a necessary condition for the full realization of sex workers’ human rights. Ultimately, the theoretical contribution of this work is not only significant for scholarship on sex work and sex workers rights, but also for other workers and actors who operate in the liminal spaces between informal and formal sectors.


In an effort to support the writing of graduate student dissertations with a human rights focus at the University of Connecticut, the Human Rights Institute funds one dissertation writing fellowship each year.