Economies of Emotion, Familiarity, Fantasy, and Desire: Emotional Labor in Ho Chi Minh City’s Sex Industry

Published in Sexualities April 2010

Paper Author: Kimberly Kay Hoang, UC Berkeley

This article examines the contemporary sex industry in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, a country that has undergone rapid economic restructuring over the past twenty years. Drawing on seven months of ethnographic field research between June 2006 and August 2007, I analyze and compare the relationships between sex workers and their clients in three different sectors of HCMC’s sex industry. The low-end sector caters to local Vietnamese men; the mid-tier sector services overseas white men; and the high-end sector that provides services to overseas Vietnamese (Viet Kieu) men. I incorporate Arlie Hochschild’s theory of emotional labor to illustrate how women in the low-end sector engage in forms of repressive emotional labor while women in the mid-tier and high-end sectors engage in different forms expressive forms of emotional labor. The patterning of emotional labor in these relationships illuminates the broader structural conditions that shape the range of choices sex workers have in relation to their clients.

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