"Buy This One!" Migrant Beer Sellers in Southeast Asia

Monday, 11 July 2016: 11:15
Location: Hörsaal BIG 2 (Main Building)
Oral Presentation
Denise SPITZER, University of Ottawa, Canada
Migrant women working in service and care industries are engaged in some of the most precarious and burgeoning sectors of the global labour market. One understudied group of female service workers are primarily rural-to-urban migrants who work in the cities, towns, and beach resorts of Southeast Asia as beer sellers. Wearing uniforms—often a tight-fitting dress or short skirt adorned with a prominent beer logo–migrant beer sellers are employed in a range of venues from restaurants and bars to special events and private clubs to generally promote a particular brand of international, regional, or national beer. Working primarily on commission, migrant beer sellers are thrust into competition with other young women for the attention of and sales by their customers.   

In this presentation I draw from a participatory research project with migrant beer sellers in the capital cities of Thailand, Cambodia, and Laos that examines the intersections of gender, work, and health. I begin by outlining the journeys of migrant beer sellers from rural villages to urban centres, primarily at the behest of their increasingly dispossessed farm families, and describe how their social location is further complicated by globalized notions of beauty, which influences where they will be inserted into the variegated and hierarchical beer promotion industry. Although routinely subject to stigmatization, harassment and abuse, many women feel empowered by their earning capacity, distance from family, sexual expression, embrace of modernity and consumerism, and solidarity with other migrant beer sellers. I will situate these observations within the ways in which precarity is generated, resisted, and subverted across dimensions of: space (global, national, urban and rural); gender (roles, identities, and performance); and neoliberal globalization with its impacts on rural livelihoods, available economic opportunities, consumerism, hegemonic ideas of beauty and the creation of desires.