A ‘continuum of sexual economic exchanges’ or ‘weak agency’?
This chapter explores the meaning of the link between sex work and migration for female migrant sex workers, based on interviews with migrant women in Switzerland. While sex work and other sexual-economic exchanges can constitute ‘migratory resources’ for some female migrants, the combination of migration and sex work is often problematic, as it limits the autonomy of women, confining them to a stigmatised economic sector. We particularly investigate whether the materialist feminist concept ‘a continuum of sexual economic exchanges’, which is still often applied in French and Italian speaking research, is still valid today for understanding female migrants’ situations. While the notion highlights that exchanges of sex for money occur in different contexts not associated with prostitution, such as for instance in marriage, we argue that the concept fails to grasp the complexity of lived experience of female migrant sex workers for two interrelated reasons. First, focusing on gendered logics of constraints and resistance, this concept does not include an intersectional perspective. Second, as such it does not capture the various negotiations set up by sex workers. Finally, we suggest that the concept of ‘weak agency’ offers a way to address these limitations.