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Negotiating boundaries: the sex work identities of 'bar girls' in Nazareth, Ethiopia

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Social relationships, and the spaces through which they are encountered, are integral to young people's construction of identity. How they negotiate interactions with peers, family and others is important for young people's understanding of who they are and how they fit into their communities. Although research within the new social studies of childhood has focused to some extent on children's family and peer relationships, little attention has been given to the particular dynamics inherent in the relationships of working children. This article therefore focuses on the lives of young commercial sex workers in Ethiopia, and explores how the spatial and temporal performances of multiple fractured identities are used in the negotiation of relationships that take place within and beyond the spaces of sex work. Qualitative research was carried out with 30 teenage 'bar girls', aged 14-19, who are engaged in sex work in Nazareth, to explore the processes that influence and shape their lives. Drawing on a conceptualisation of performativity that recognises the spatiality of performative identities, the article illustrates how young sex workers manage multiple identities across the spaces of sex work and how their identities change through relationships at work, in their communities and with their families. The article demonstrates that the nuanced micro-power negotiations taking place result in feminine identities that are encased within wider structures of rural poverty.
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Keywords: Ethiopia; identities; performativity; sex work; young people

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Department of Geography, University of Dundee, Dundee, UK

Publication date: 01 April 2011

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