Grant TypeDissertation Fieldwork Grant
Institutional AffiliationCornell U.
Grant numberGr. 10347
Approve DateApril 13, 2022
Project TitleSha, Xinlei (Cornell U.) "Visualizing Intimacy: Sex Work and Race in between Kenya and China"
My project examines how Kenyan and Chinese female sex workers (FSWs) strategically deploy intimacy and sexuality to negotiate the in/visibility and il/legitimacy of sex work in Nairobi given that their work and lives have attracted constant Kenyan state’s harassment and local media demonization. Meanwhile, they must grapple with Chinese corporate exploitation of their racial and cultural differences. Kenyan FSWs mobilize online resources against media depictions of their “illicit” transactional sex with Chinese construction workers. Chinese FSWs manipulate their intimate and sexual relationships with Chinese businessmen and officials to protect themselves from Kenyan police arrest. Through comparative research with Chinese and Kenyan FSWs’ lives in Nairobi, I explore how Chinese and Kenyan FSWs materialize and visualize their intimate worlds against Kenyan state’s sexual surveillance, Chinese corporate strategies, and local media misrepresentations. I also explore how Chinese and Kenyan FSWs negotiate, interact with, and resist the hierarchies of differences of gender, race, class, and nationality that animate the broader transnational spaces of Kenyan and Chinese economic development. My dissertation contributes to tackling the pressing problem of the “uneven legibility” of non-Western sex workers’ “intimate worlds”. It also contributes to anthropologies of sexuality and intimacy, African-Chinese race formations, and representations of non-Western subjects.