Producing Affective Performance and Capital: Lao Migrant Women in the Sex Industry along the Thai-Lao Border

Maliwan Senawong




This article examines the production of affective performances by Lao migrant sex workers in dealing with clients, employers and state authorities. The study applied ethnographic research, by collecting information from the lived experiences of Lao women sex workers, aged 18-27, working in karaoke bars in a border town of Ubon Ratchathani province, Thailand from June 2014 to May 2015. The study positions Lao women sex workers as “emotional labor” who actively use crucial strategies in accumulating various types of capital in their commercial sex work. The article argues that these women have actively created a space of negotiation working through the production of emotional labor. Although they are exploited by informal employment and controlled by patriarchal sexual norms, they strategically employ erotic capital (body, emotional labor, sexuality) and cultural capital (gender and language), which they exchange for economic capital so as to elevate the social and economic status of their family. Additionally, their strategy in classifying clients and building long-term relationships with regular clients or Thai boyfriends has contributed to various types of client support. However, such intimacy carries the risk of unplanned pregnancies and sexually transmitted diseases.

Keywords: emotional labor, Thai-Lao border, commercial sex, Lao women, capital, cross-border migration


emotional labor; Thai-Lao border; commercial sex; Lao women; capital; cross-border migration