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Slow Separations: Everyday Sex Work in Southern China

Ming, Kevin (2013) Slow Separations: Everyday Sex Work in Southern China. Doctoral Dissertation, University of Pittsburgh. (Unpublished)

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This work is an ethnographic inquiry into questions of development, subjectivity, and violence through the marginal lenses of lower-echelon sex work in Guangzhou, People’s Republic of China. It is based on over three years of fieldwork, including summers in 2002 and 2003, two years of consecutive fieldwork from 2004 – 2006, and follow-up research visits from 2007 – 2010. Focused primarily on underground brothels called falang, as well as street and freelance sex work in bars, this dissertation explores the forms of mundane physical and existential violence that constitute the experiences of those multiply marginalized at the edges of one of the world’s most rapidly developing megalopolises. The figure of the prostitute in modern China has occupied a position against which gendered normality and modernity have been measured and made. This work, in contrast, explores the lived experiences and stories of migrant women who have attempted to realize the entrepreneurial promises of post-Mao China in one of the few financially viable ways available to them. It further explores the costs of doing so at and beyond gendered, sexual, spatial, and class margins. Implicated within the rapid spatial reconfigurations of the city’s development, this ethnographic account explores the conditions that many migrant workers face in China, conditions unique yet resonant with devalued labor elsewhere. In contemporary China, the intersection of gendered/sexual abjection and discourses of “human quality” (suzhi) raises important questions regarding the relationship of productive and coercive forms of power in the context of global violence and late-capitalist realities.
Ultimately these issues of force and inequality are experienced in the body, this dissertation argues, in the production of desiring selves who cannot attain the basic conditions of their desire – material success, dignity, and respect. While creatively making use of the tools at their disposal to realize often simple dreams, this research shows this to be overall a losing battle. From the ethnographic perspective of one form of marginal, migrant labor in southern China - lower-echelon sex work - the refusal to allow the separation of the self from the hopes that constitute it is sometimes a last agential refusal.


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Item Type: University of Pittsburgh ETD
Status: Unpublished
CreatorsEmailPitt UsernameORCID
Ming, Kevinkdming@pitt.eduKDMING
ETD Committee:
TitleMemberEmail AddressPitt UsernameORCID
Committee ChairConstable, Nicolencgrad@pitt.eduNCGRAD
Committee MemberAlter, Josephjsalter@pitt.eduJSALTER
Committee MemberRawski, Evelynesrx@pitt.eduESRX
Committee MemberGabriella, Lukacslukacs@pitt.eduLUKACS
Date: 30 September 2013
Date Type: Publication
Defense Date: 29 April 2013
Approval Date: 30 September 2013
Submission Date: 8 August 2013
Access Restriction: 5 year -- Restrict access to University of Pittsburgh for a period of 5 years.
Number of Pages: 254
Institution: University of Pittsburgh
Schools and Programs: Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences > Anthropology
Degree: PhD - Doctor of Philosophy
Thesis Type: Doctoral Dissertation
Refereed: Yes
Uncontrolled Keywords: China. Sex work. Labor. Gender. Melancholy
Date Deposited: 30 Sep 2013 14:29
Last Modified: 30 Sep 2018 05:15


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