Tracing Contradictions of Neoliberal Governmentality in Tijuana’s Sex Industry
Keywords:sex work, Mexico, border, governmentality
My main concern in this article is to illustrate contradictions that neoliberal governmentality produces in the context of sex work in Tijuana. Neoliberal governmentality is a practice of ruling people that interweaves aspirations of individuals with the demands of the market. By theorising governmentality in the context of sex work in Tijuana, it is my intention to move beyond the limited discussion of voluntary versus forced prostitution, in order to stress that sex work has become entangled in ambiguous and simultaneous processes: on the one hand, it can generate personal empowerment and agency, and on the other hand, it demands the individual’s subjection to a neoliberal market regime. The article will explain the liberties allowed by Tijuana’s sex industry, and elucidate why sex workers prefer managerial sex-work arrangements to personalistic ways of selling sex based on pimps as intermediaries. Despite challenges of selling sex, the income generated from sex work at the US–Mexico border allows many women to create new lifestyles. Sex work is used as a strategic means to realise a project of self-actualisation, which is linked to the desire for economic well-being and upward social mobility. Drawing attention to the complicated entanglements of personal strategies and aspirations of sex workers in this particular locale with neoliberal governmentality, the article demonstrates that sex work can simultaneously be a site of oppression and exploitation, and a stepping-stone to personal advancement.