Becoming cosmopolitan women while negotiating structurally limited choices: The case of Korean migrant sex workers in Australia

Publication Type:
Journal Article
Organization, 2019, 26 (3), pp. 355 - 370
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© The Author(s) 2018. International labor mobility holds the promise that one can become a cosmopolitan citizen of the world. But this interpretation of mobility rarely features in research and media focused on Asian women who travel and engage in sex work. In both arenas, the dominant narrative is that migrant sex workers are poor, the victims of sex trafficking, and pose a risk to public health. This narrative is laced with Orientalist overtones of the Asian sex worker as the alluringly exotic ‘other’, passive and particularly vulnerable, and in need of rescue. However, the interviews of 11 Korean women sex workers based in Sydney, Australia, challenge this narrative. These women engaged in a transnational quest to become cosmopolitan citizens of the world, albeit making logical choices from structurally limited options shaped by their multiple identities as women, sex workers, and Korean, and their relative precarious position in the Australian labor market. Their stories highlight how migration and work can be an agentic process of self-expression and self-actualization of identity. This identity has emerged against the backdrop of shifting meanings and practices of social reproduction in Korea, a country that has experienced a highly compressed transition from developing, to modern capitalist state. Theoretically, the article draws on post-colonial feminist theory to shed light into the conflicting views on migrant sex workers in existing research, by focusing on the women’s voices, which have been neglected or silenced.
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