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research that requires you go to bars

6 February 2012

In this article, we explore how sex workers in Malawi make sense of relationships with clients by drawing on two relational categories. One is a bounded and commodified understanding of exchange and intimacy, and the second a relational category that connotes premarital love and trust, the chibwenzi. As we demonstrate, in some situations the commodified is idealized, while in others, the more intimate chibwenzi becomes less “intimate” and is instead seen through the lenses of commodification… when seen in relation to the fraught history of gender relations in colonial and post-colonial Malawi, these findings also have direct implications for people who wish to understand—and perhaps intervene in—the complex lives of Malawian sex workers.

That is from a forthcoming article (gated) by Iddo Tavory and Michelle Poulin, to be published in Theory and Society. The paper’s title is: “Sex work and the construction of intimacies: meanings and work pragmatics in rural Malawi.”

In addition to hiring a few research assistants to conduct interviews, my colleagues Iddo and Michelle “also draw on the conversations the authors have had with local bar-goers and bargirls, and the time spent in the bars in which the study was conducted.” Yes, the group of us who work together in Malawi lead very interesting lives.

"liquor stores and bars" by ann gav, taken in Malawi and shared on HnH with cc license via

One Comment leave one →
  1. 9 February 2012 5:54 am

    You know, I had an interesting conversation with an anthropologist recently where we talked about the need to get stuck in when doing research…. going to local bars, walking around at night, foregoing the fancy hotel and staying in a guesthouse – these things seem so obvious a way to get the real information you’re looking for and enrich your own experience/exposure to a place, and yet….

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