This article explores, ethnographically and critically, migrant women's contributions to three intersecting sectors of “intimate industries” in Asia: domestic work, sex tourism, and adoption. These three sectors are normally understood as separate and distinct, and in the cases discussed below, women are paid formal wages only as domestic workers. Yet focusing on the intersections between these sectors illustrates the critical ongoing significance of global and regional class hierarchies and the intersections of gender, race, and nationality within the context of global capitalism. They simultaneously raise critical questions about why some intimate and reproductive activities are considered “work” while others are not. These intersections are especially pertinent for understanding the construction of less-valued forms of immaterial labor that have been largely overlooked by Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri in their influential work on late global capitalism and empire. Moreover, these three sectors highlight the current significance of what the author calls “intimate surplus labor”—adapting Karl Marx's nineteenth-century concept of the production of profits for a range of capitalist beneficiaries who depend on paying low or no wages to their workers—to the provision of intimate feminized reproductive labor within the contemporary political economy.

The text of this article is only available as a PDF.
You do not currently have access to this content.