Intimate labour and bodily services in Thai tourism

My PhD project explores the intimate, emotional and reproductive labour provided in the global tourism market. More specifically, it focuses on the lived experience of Thai women who have migrated from the rural areas to tourist resorts. Working in the intimate tourist industry, these women provide services (massage, manicure/pedicure, hotel cleaning, nannies, bar girls) to tourists in order to support their family back home.

The purpose of the study is to explore how women performing intimate services in a tourist setting perceive their work, life situation and encounters with customers. What motivates them to enroll in intimate labour, and what prompts them to stay? How do they understand and negotiate their experiences of intimate labour, the customers and their work situation? How does this vary between different sectors? Intimate labour in this sense functions as a case study for a much more extended phenomenon. It illustrates the diverse embodied mobility patterns of ‘elites’ and ‘non-elites’ and an on-going tension between complex micro level patterns of power and agency, and broader macro patterns of global inequality.

The research will be based on ethnographic data obtained during a number of field visits at a selected tourist location in Thailand. I will use participant observation as well as unstructured and semi-structured interviews with Thai women working in different intimate tourist sectors.

Keywords: Intimate labour; Tourism; Globalization; Thailand; Migration

Contact: Elina Nilsson

Phase: Early phase of work