Dissertations, Theses, and Capstone Projects

Date of Degree


Document Type


Degree Name





Victoria Pitts-Taylor

Committee Members

Sharon Zukin

Carolina Bank Muñoz

Lynn Chancer

Subject Categories

Gender and Sexuality | Inequality and Stratification | Migration Studies | Place and Environment | Race and Ethnicity


sexual labor, Chile, intersectional feminism, inequalities, coffee shops


Precarious Empowerments analyzes sexual labor in ‘tinted cafes,’ spaces hidden from public view where women dance for their male clients and clandestinely perform sexual services. Drawing from an embodied ethnographic account of the everyday lives of five coffee shops that fit into the lower status ‘tinted cafes’ where sexual labor is common, this thesis examines sex workers’ experiences at the intersection of class, racial, and gender hierarchies. From an intersectional perspective, my study examines how inequalities based on class, gender, race, nationality, and body capital are reproduced and contested by sex workers. Based on the multiple facets of the precariousness marking sex workers’ experiences, beyond socioeconomic marginalization, it asks; how are inequalities reproduced through women’s embodied labor? How do women negotiate inequalities and exclusion?

In intertextuality with the literature on sexualized and emotional labor in the global South, this thesis explores sex work as a service that embodies gendered, transnational social structures, but also as a practice that represents sex workers’ resourcefulness and resilience. Moving away from conceptualizations of sexual labor as a totalizing patriarchal oppression per se, it conceives sexual labor as situated and operating relationally with other forms of exclusion. Interweaving an ethnographic narrative with a theoretical and a historical contextualization, Precarious empowerments reveals how differences in terms of class, gender, race, and nationality are integral to the daily practices and the consumption of sexual services in ‘tinted’ coffee shops. Women’s empowerment gains value when seen in opposition to hegemonic power relations and the social and symbolic dimensions of the precarity marking working-class women’s lives. Sex workers’ narratives point to the strategies, arrangements, and resources they rely on to improve their socioeconomic status, how they face stigma, and the tactics used to navigate a context simultaneously marked by precariousness and condemning the work they perform. Understanding how sex workers experience this precarity, due to the criminalization and the stigmatization of their labor, highlights the need for a radical transformation in how sex work is signified and addressed by the Chilean state and society.