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Tag Archives: Anthropology

Hoefinger, Heidi. 2010. Negotiating Intimacy: Transactional Sex and Relationships Among Cambodian Professional Girlfriends. Doctoral thesis, Goldsmiths, University of London. [Thesis]

Full thesis available here.

This research focuses on the transactional nature of sexual and non-sexual relationships between certain young women in Cambodia described as ‘professional girlfriends’, and their ‘western boyfriends’. In this case, the term ‘transactional’ refers to the initial material motivation behind their interactions. While the majority of women are employed as bartenders or waitresses in tourist areas of Phnom Penh, outside observers tend to erroneously label them as ‘prostitutes’ or ‘broken women’ because of the gift-based nature of the intimate exchanges. Ethnographic evidence demonstrates, however, that they make up a diverse and nuanced group of individuals who engage in relationships more complex than simply ‘sex-for-cash’ exchanges, and often seek marriage and love in addition to material comforts. Though they do not view themselves as ‘prostitutes’, the distinction of the term ‘professional’ is used to emphasize that 1) they do rely on the formation of these relationships as a means of livelihood and their motivations are initially materially-based; 2) they engage in multiple overlapping transactional relationships, usually unbeknownst to their other partners; 3) there is a performance of intimacy, whereby the professed feelings of love and dedication lie somewhere on a continuum between genuine and feigned, and where the term ‘love’ itself carries multiple meanings.

The research further reveals not only the stereotypes, contradictions, and structural constraints experienced by these young women, but also their entrepreneurialism, determination and creativity. Despite trauma related to recent political past, sexual violence, stigma, depression and self-harming, they use tools of global feminine youth culture, consumption, linguistic ability, ‘bar girl’ subculture, and interpersonal relationships to make socioeconomic advancements and find enjoyment in their lives. The practice of ‘intimate ethnography’ also illuminates the negotiation of intimacy and friendship between the participants and researcher, as well as the general materiality and exchange of everyday sex and relationships around the globe.

Interview on Huffington Post “Everything You Think You Know About Cambodian Sex Workers Is Wrong

Prabha Kotiswaran (2008): Born unto Brothels—Toward a Legal Ethnography of Sex Work in an Indian Red-Light Are, Law and Social Inquiry 33, pp. 579–629.

Abstract:

The global sex panic around sex work and trafficking has fostered prostitution law reform worldwide. While the normative status of sex work remains deeply contested, abolitionists and sex work advocates alike display an unwavering faith in the power of criminal law; for abolitionists, strictly enforced criminal laws can eliminate sex markets, whereas for sex work advocates, decriminalization can empower sex workers. I problematize both narratives by delineating the political economy and legal ethnography of Sonagachi, one of India’s largest red-light areas. I show how within Sonagachi there exist highly internally differentiated groups of stakeholders, including sex workers, who, variously endowed by a plural rule network—consisting of formal legal rules, informal social norms, and market structures—routinely enter into bargains in the shadow of the criminal law whose outcomes cannot be determined a priori. I highlight the complex relationship between criminal law and sex markets by analyzing the distributional effects of criminalizing customers on Sonagachi’s sex industry.

Billaud, Julie; Castro, Julie, Whores and Niqabées: The Sexual Boundaries of French Nationalism, in:  French Politics, Culture & Society, Volume 31, Number 2, Summer 2013 , pp. 81-101(21)

Abstract

This essay seeks to analyze the recent reconfigurations of French nationalism, taking as an entry point the legal treatment of veiled Muslim women and prostitutes over the past two decades. We argue that the bodies of prostitutes and veiled Muslim women, both of which have been targeted by successive legal interventions in order to exclude them from the public space, have become central political sites for the state to assert its sovereign power and trigger nationalist feelings. This comparative analysis of gendered “lawfare“ (which John Comaroff has defined as the judicialization of politics and the resort to legal instruments to commit acts of political coercion) provides insights into a new form of nationalism that strives to foster “sexual liberalism“ as a core value of citizenship in order to enforce a virile nationalism, prescribe new sexual normativities, and criminalize immigrants and those living at the social margins.

Johansson, Isabelle (21013): “Do ut des”: An anthropological study on the agendas of  ’anti’-trafficking measures in Italy.

Full paper available here.  

Trafficking in human beings is a topic that has received a lot of attention the last ten years. It
has been referred to as a modern form of slavery and a crime against humanity. There is a
flood of actors working to fight trafficking and save its victims, occupied with different forms
of victim assistance. At the same time the European Union is augmenting restrictions on visas
and asylum legislation, border controls and deportations, which makes migrants from certain
countries who wish to travel to Europe despite these restrictions vulnerable to exploitation.
Italy has been acknowledged for providing the best practice of protection for ‘victim of
trafficking’, since it offers a residence permit developed especially for identified ‘trafficking
victims’. Claiming victimhood is often the only way for irregular migrant women in the sex
industry to obtain a legal status in contemporary Italy. However, the category and its legal and
social benefits are out of reach to many. It is not possible to just claim to be a victim but one
must do so by surrendering to certain ideas about what constitutes a ‘victim of trafficking’ and
provide what it expected. This study will examine the interconnection between migration
management and trafficking anthropologically, with a focus on ‘anti’-trafficking measures in
Italy and the concept of victimhood in the practices who take on the women who are in the
process of obtaining the legal status of ‘victims of trafficking’ and the following residence
permit. By looking at trafficking from a structural perspective I will show how the ‘victim of
trafficking’ is created, and how it is connected to the state and its migration policies.

Erica L. Williams (2013): Sex work and exclusion in the tourist districts of Salvador, Brazil, in: Gender, Place & Culture: A Journal of Feminist Geograph.

Abstract

Salvador, capital of the state of Bahia, in the Northeastern region of Brazil, is composed of racialized, gendered, and sexualized spaces in which certain people are welcome, while others are marginalized and excluded. Praça da Sé, in the Centro Histórico, is a major site of both the local commercial sex industry and the tourist industry in Salvador. With their public visibility in sites heavily frequented by tourists, sex workers in Salvador reveal how sexuality is public, politically contested, economically charged, and, most significantly, racialized. If, as Tom Boellstorff argues, ‘globalization resignifies the meaning of place rather than making place irrelevant’ (2007, 23), how does one then study racialized sexualities in the context of the globalized tourism industry? How do class, space, and race influence practices of sex work and sex tourism in Salvador? This article offers a critical analysis of racialized sexualities in the study of the sexual economies of tourism in Salvador. I conceptualize Salvador as a ‘site of desire’ (Manderson and Jolly 1997) where issues of socioeconomic inequality, racism, and sexism coexist alongside celebratory affirmations of Afro-Brazilian cultural production in Salvador. This article explores how the touristic cityscape of Salvador is divided into carefully demarcated zones where class and race are crucial factors in determining who ‘belongs’ and who is ‘out of place.’ Read More

Musto, Jennifer (2013): Domestic minor sex trafficking and the detention-to-protection Pipeline, in: Dialectical Anthropology, May 2013. (Open Access, full paper available)

Notable discursive changes are afoot with respect to individuals, particularly sex trade–involved youth in the United States. Where once they may have been profiled as juvenile offenders, they are now, thanks to widespread attention to human trafficking, provisionally viewed by law enforcement and their non-state allies as potential victims of domestic minor sex trafficking, replete with traumatic pasts and turbulent family histories that authorize state intervention. This article examines how anti-trafficking policies have been discursively re-imagined to expand policing and rehabilitative interventions for youth. Drawing on in-depth interviews and ethnographic observations, it tracks the discursive sites and spaces in which criminal justice and social justice agendas have coalesced to assist youth and further assesses how attention to domestic minor sex trafficking has simultaneously authorized a multiprofessional detention-to-protection pipeline.

Sealing Cheng, Sexualities January/February 2013 vol. 16 no. 1-2 30-42

SexualitiesAbstract

We mostly learn about women in prostitution through representation by non-sex-workers: activists, policy-makers, journalists, and academics. What comes through are often hypersexualized and essentialized images of sex workers as either victims or agents. This dichotomy not only essentializes their lives but also undermines women as partners for engagement.

Against this background, what could be learned from photographs taken by women in prostitution of their everyday lives? How do they supplement or challenge existing discourses of prostitution? What do the photographers and viewers get out of such an endeavor? And finally, what do the quotidian aspects of life have to do with research on sex work and sexuality in general?

These are some of the questions this essay raises through the author’s experience of organizing an exhibition of photographs taken by women in a South Korean red-light district in 2009. The project took place at a time when these women’s lives were undergoing dramatic change at the intersection of neoliberal development and anti-trafficking projects, materialized in the demolition of the red-light district and increasing criminalization of prostitution in South Korea. Between October 2009 and April 2010, 40 of these photographs went on a traveling exhibition “Our Lives, Our Space: Views of Women in a Red-Light District” on the east coast of the USA. This article discusses some of the impact that the exhibition has had on its viewers and the photographers. It concludes by suggesting how a study of prostitution “minus the sex” could point to new avenues of sexuality studies.

The Author

Sealing Cheng received her doctorate from the Institute of Social and Cultural Anthropology, Oxford University. She was then a Rockefeller postdoctoral fellow in Gender, Sexuality, Health, and Human Rights at the Mailman School of Public Health, Columbia University. In January 2005, she began teaching at Wellesley College in the US. Her research is focused on sexuality with reference to sex work, human trafficking, women’s activism, and policy-making. Her book, On the Move for Love: Migrant Entertainers and the U.S. Military in South Korea (University of Pennsylvania Press 2010) received the Distinguished Book Award of the Sexualities Section of the American Sociological Association in 2012.

Areas of Interest: Sex work, human trafficking, women’s activism, and policy-making, HIV/AIDS campaigns and policies, The Vagina Monologues and transnational feminism, the politics of representation in anti-trafficking discourses, pedagogical issues in women’s and gender studies and Asian studies.

Geographical Areas of Research: South Korea, Hong Kong SAR.

The full article is available here.

Dewey, Susan/Kelly, Patty: Policing Pleasure: Sex Work, Policy, and the State in Global Perspective, New York University Press 2011.

Mónica waits in the Anti-Venereal Medical Service of the Zona Galactica, the legal, state-run brothel where she works in Tuxtla Gutiérrez, Mexico. Surrounded by other sex workers, she clutches the Sanitary Control Cards that deem her registered with the city, disease-free, and able to work. On the other side of the world, Min stands singing karaoke with one of her regular clients, warily eyeing the door lest a raid by the anti-trafficking Public Security Bureau disrupt their evening by placing one or both of them in jail.
Whether in Mexico or China, sex work-related public policy varies considerably from one community to the next. A range of policies dictate what is permissible, many of them intending to keep sex workers themselves healthy and free from harm. Yet often, policies with particular goals end up having completely different consequences.
Policing Pleasure examines cross-cultural public policies related to sex work, bringing together ethnographic studies from around the world—from South Africa to India—to offer a nuanced critique of national and municipal approaches to regulating sex work. Contributors offer new theoretical and methodological perspectives that move beyond already well-established debates between “abolitionists” and “sex workers’ rights advocates” to document both the intention of public policies on sex work and their actual impact upon those who sell sex, those who buy sex, and public health more generally.