Honesty and economy on a highway: Entanglements of gift, money, and affection in the narratives of Ukrainian sex workers

Rachok, Dafna. ‘Honesty and Economy on a Highway: Entanglements of Gift, Money, and Affection in the Narratives of Ukrainian Sex Workers’. Economic Anthropology, Early View. https://doi.org/10.1002/sea2.12187.

Abstract

Sex work provides a particularly good example to consider the relationships of money, authenticity, and intimacy. Many scholars who research intimacy point to the fact that seeing sex work as an exchange of money (or goods) for sex is a simplistic and reductive approach. Building on the existing research that complicates the idea of sex work as an emotionally detached sex‐for‐money transaction, this article looks at the coexistence of references to gift exchange, informal economy, and service economy in the narratives of street sex workers from the cities of Kropyvnyts’kyi and Kryvyi Rih in central Ukraine. Focusing on sex workers’ attempts at discursive legitimization of sex work and on the narratives of their relationships with clients, I argue that the market rhetoric and the gift economy are not incommensurable for my participants. I show that though sex workers’ local “workplace ethic” is permeated with references to competition and productivity, they still don’t see sex work as qualitatively different from other forms of intimacy and don’t treat their clients as mere customers because of multiple emotional and affectionate attachments that exist between them. I conclude by considering the coexistence of various economic narratives in relation to the economic self.

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