Treading Water: Street Sex Workers Negotiating Frantic Presents and Speculative Futures in the Mekong Delta, Vietnam

Time & Society, 2018, 28(2): 804-827


Structural conditions shape the temporalities that govern the lives of street sex workers operating in Châu Đốc, a small town in Southern Vietnam. These women live each day as they come and make decisions based on quick returns and the management of daily needs, prioritizing short-term solutions over planning for the future. The ethnographic study of the multiple temporalities that govern street sex work, family care, gambling and debt-juggling practices shows that these women live in a frantic present-oriented temporality that is filled with pressing tasks and routines. This leads to an uncertain future that engenders various forms of hopeful and speculative behaviour, but precludes systematic planning. As a result, these women are treading water: putting effort into keep themselves afloat but never furthering their status and lives or catching up with the currents of development and progress. Overall, this article argues that this day-to-day lifestyle goes hand in hand with the linear and future-oriented time of capitalism and wage-labour that has infiltrated everyday life in post-reform Vietnam.