Hostess work: Negotiating the morals of money and sex

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Purpose - The purpose of this essay is to look at the workplace of hostess clubs as moral projects and examine the constitution of morals in the marketplace "from below," meaning from the perspective of workers. It focuses specifically on the experiences of Filipina hostesses, who constitute the majority of foreign hostesses in Japan. Specifically, it looks at their moral construction of commercial sex in the clubs where they work, which are usually Philippine clubs, meaning clubs that solely employ Filipino women. Methodology/Approach - Ethnographic research in Philippine hostess clubs in Tokyo, Japan. Findings - The analysis illustrates the emergence of three moral groupings among Filipina hostesses. They include moral prudes (those who view paid sex as immoral), moral rationalists (those who morally accept paid sex), and lastly moral in-betweeners (those who morally reject the direct purchase of sex but accept its indirect purchase). The case of hostess clubs shows us market activities - in this case, customer-hostess interactions - do not inevitably result in a hegemonic churning of a particular moral order, as the constitution of morals in the marketplace is not only a top-down process but depends on the actions from below, specifically the personal moral order of hostesses, the club culture (sex regimes), peer pressure, and employment status concerns. Value - This essay provides concrete empirical evidence on an understudied group of migrant workers, and it advances our knowledge on the experiences of sex workers and their negotiation of moral views on commercial sex.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)207-232
Number of pages26
JournalResearch in the Sociology of Work
StatePublished - 2009

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Sociology and Political Science


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