Apsara’s Ordeal of Fire: The Politics of Sense in the Everyday Life of Cambodian Bar Girls
Keywords:Sensory experience, Cambodia, Sex work, Constrained agency
This article examines the relationship between sensory experience and the everyday life of Cambodian bar girls, sex workers employed by urban bars and nightclubs. Complicating previous research that views these women as marginalized or victimized, I introduce novel ethnographic evidence exploring sex workers’ strategies for harm reduction. I argue that bar girls develop a sense of hazard, reflecting their agency as individuals and the strong group solidarity they forge in the peril of everyday life in sex-selling space. Forced to confront the occupational dangers of sex work behind closed doors, bar girls mitigate risks of violence and disease by producing a communal space of learning. Yet bar girls’ primary strategy for ascendancy— marriage to a foreign client—actually magnifies their risk of HIV infection as they perform the sexual role of wife.
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