Ethnographic Sex Work Research in Singapore: Who gets to speak?

Lu Huiyi: Ethnographic Sex Work Research in Singapore: Who gets to speak?


Perhaps one of the greatest draws of cultural ethnography is the thrill of venturing into fearful and taboo spaces. The red light districts of Geylang and the “Four Floors of Whores” at Orchard Towers have earned themselves a seedy reputation in Singapore. The significant concentration of the sex industry in these spaces sets them apart from other local districts. Furthermore, Singaporean conservative attitudes against prostitution mean that sexual spaces carry a certain stigma and are excluded from the socio-cultural imagination of more mainstream Singaporean spaces. In addition to this imagined distancing by locals, these spaces become especially distinct due to the fact that while Singaporeans and foreigners alike patronise Geylang and Orchard Towers, a significant proportion of the sex trade appears to be carried out by foreign sex workers.

The presence of a high concentration of foreign sex workers is especially important because there is a high ethnic consciousness within multicultural, globalising, Singapore. In fact, it may be argued that the Singaporean identity is an acutely racialised one in light of the state’s imposition of the CMIO (Chinese, Malay, Indian, Others) categories. The centrality of ethnicity to identity construction in Singapore suggests that the diverse ethnicities of sex workers carry various meanings and differentiation in sex spaces like Orchard Towers and Geylang. After all, prostitution as a topic must not be studied in isolation.

Read the full article here.

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