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“You can’t eat love”: “Getting by” in South Africa’s informal sexual economy

“You can’t eat love”: “Getting by” in South Africa’s informal sexual economy Transactional sex and sex work are defined as mutually exclusive in both popular parlance and scholarly debates in South Africa, and yet this qualitative study based in Johannesburg suggests that the lines between these practices are blurring under neoliberalism, as poor women are forced to rely extensively (and sometimes exclusively) on sexual exchange to support themselves and their families. Drawing on Pierre Bourdieu’s theories of gift exchange, the paper argues that the historic institutions of trust and reciprocity upon which transactional sex relies are threatened by the precarity instigated by neoliberalism. As a result, poor women’s habituses have been destabilized. They respond by buttressing symbolic distinctions that are no longer supported by structural scaffolding and incorporate imaginary identifications of an idealized time when South Africa had full employment and stable gender customs, as melancholic loss. The faltering of the symbolic economy of gift exchange affords women both increasing freedom and precarity. Overall, the project contributes to our understanding of how relations between intimacy and the economy are reconfigured in the face of structural crisis and how this shapes peoples’ subjectivities. http://www.deepdyve.com/assets/images/DeepDyve-Logo-lg.png American Journal of Cultural Sociology Springer Journals

“You can’t eat love”: “Getting by” in South Africa’s informal sexual economy

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Publisher
Springer Journals
Copyright
Copyright © 2016 by Macmillan Publishers Ltd
Subject
Social Sciences; Social Sciences, general; Sociology, general; Sociology of Culture; Media Sociology
ISSN
2049-7113
eISSN
2049-7121
DOI
10.1057/s41290-016-0010-x
Publisher site
See Article on Publisher Site

Abstract

Transactional sex and sex work are defined as mutually exclusive in both popular parlance and scholarly debates in South Africa, and yet this qualitative study based in Johannesburg suggests that the lines between these practices are blurring under neoliberalism, as poor women are forced to rely extensively (and sometimes exclusively) on sexual exchange to support themselves and their families. Drawing on Pierre Bourdieu’s theories of gift exchange, the paper argues that the historic institutions of trust and reciprocity upon which transactional sex relies are threatened by the precarity instigated by neoliberalism. As a result, poor women’s habituses have been destabilized. They respond by buttressing symbolic distinctions that are no longer supported by structural scaffolding and incorporate imaginary identifications of an idealized time when South Africa had full employment and stable gender customs, as melancholic loss. The faltering of the symbolic economy of gift exchange affords women both increasing freedom and precarity. Overall, the project contributes to our understanding of how relations between intimacy and the economy are reconfigured in the face of structural crisis and how this shapes peoples’ subjectivities.

Journal

American Journal of Cultural SociologySpringer Journals

Published: Sep 2, 2016

References