Long-term experiences of surrogate mothers in Thailand

My PhD project explores the intimate, emotional and reproductive labour provided in the global tourism market. M

This PhD-project explores the long-term experiences of commercial surrogacy in the context of Thailand. Commercial surrogacy, i.e. the process whereby a woman gestates and gives birth to a child with the pronounced purpose to relinquish the child to intended parent(s) for monetary compensation, is today an emerging arrangement involving the movements of people and gametes across international borders.

The aim of this project is to gain increased knowledge and understanding of what acting as a surrogate mother means and how it affects the life situation of the woman.  Elaborating on my master’s thesis from 2015 for which I interviewed Thai surrogate mothers, I now wish to explore the more long-term experiences of Thai women who have given birth to a child through commercial surrogacy one to five years prior to interviews. How did the surrogacy experience affect them financially, emotionally, socially? Do they have contact witht the child and the clients? And how do they remember, understand and reflect upon the surrogacy experience?

With this study I also wish to contribute to the emerging anthropological field of intimate labour and commercial surrogacy, and highlight the interconnection between the global and the intimate by exploring the lived experience of those whose work involve intimacy, embodiment and emotions in a transnational context.

Contact: Elina Nilsson

ore 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