Yeon Jung Yu

Social Networks: The Making of Migrant Sex Workers in Post-Socialist China
2013 Dissertation Fellowship

My research project maps the social networks of female sex workers in contemporary China. Unprecedented market-driven reforms in China have mobilized an estimated 120 to 200 million peasants and transformed them into a “floating population;” of this population, between six and ten million women have become sex workers. Given this larger transformation in the social ecology and the high stakes involved in their professional interactions, investigating the social networks of female sex workers is important for a deeper understanding of this proliferating “hidden” population. This dissertation is a product of my 26 months of ethnographic fieldwork (2006-2009), partly in Shanghai and Beijing, but primarily in Hainan Province. In all, I had numerous informal conversations with around 400-500 sex workers from diverse socio-economic backgrounds. I also conducted three sets of surveys with 175 interviewees on their life histories, their social networks, and their health practices. I discovered that, rather than being socially isolated, the sex workers have strong social connections. I argue for the significance of social networks in the production and reproduction of the sex worker population and, by extension, its cultural ideologies and social structures.

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