Dealing in Desire: Asian Ascendancy, Western Decline, and the Hidden Currencies of Sex Work. By Kimberly Kay Hoang. Oakland: University of California Press, 2015. Cosmopolitan Sex Workers: Women and Migration in a Global City. By Christine B. N. Chin. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2013. Street Corner Secrets: Sex, Work, and Migration in the City of Mumbai. By Svati P. Shah. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2014.

Document Type

Book Review

Publication Date

Fall 2016


Suzanna Danuta Walters




University of Chicago Press




Kimberly Kay Hoang’s Dealing in Desire, Christine Chin’s Cosmopolitan Sex Workers, and Svati Shah’s Street Corner Secrets mobilize ethnographic methods to tell the stories of the role of transacting sex in the generation of livelihoods (Shah) and the movement of goods and services in local, national, and global economies (Hoang, Chin). By describing how women’s bodies and lives are conscripted into economic systems that simultaneously deprive and grant actors agency, each book challenges the simplistic notion that the transaction of sex is easily understood only as exploitation. Instead, we see through the lives of numerous characters—sex workers, clients, business owners, and intermediaries—that participation in the sex industry occurs for a host of reasons, including economic gain, a desire to perform masculinity, the hope of escaping patriarchy, life enhancement, or survival. Each player is a product of our contemporary moment: neoliberal economic policies, including privatization and free-trade regimes, not only contribute to the movement of people to find work but also produce the rise of intermediary actors to facilitate migration or the eventual (informal or formal) labor contract.

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