This paper examines the flexible labor of Chinese female sex workers (FSWs) by looking at their job mobility. We show the women's flexible job mobility as an active strategy in addition to a direct response to the marketplace. Drawing upon in-depth interview data ( n =175) during twenty-six months of ethnographic fieldwork in post-socialist China, we demonstrate the workers' spatial mobility (i.e., holding jobs in multiple locations) and temporal mobility (i.e., changing jobs frequently), which are critical features of the women's lived experiences. Our analysis shows that the women in the sex trade have high job mobility and that their multiple occupations include a wide range of work – from sex work to formal sectors. Their high job mobility stems from inventive negotiation that generates greater profits, increased stability, and reputational advantages. The findings pose three distinct challenges to the way sex work in China has been portrayed: (1) female sex workers can be excluded from the “general population”; (2) female sex workers can be labeled as a member of a particular sex worker category; and (3) the exclusive categorization between “commercial sex work” (e.g., xiaojie or prostitutes) and “transactional sex” (e.g., ernai or “second wife.”) The research demonstrates the strong agency of female sex workers even within adverse structural restraints, which contributes to existing discussions of whether sex work is voluntary or coerced.
Previous studies propose “transitivity” as a key network property. Our research suggests that when networks consist of relations that potentially carry major social costs, members of those networks may actively prevent transitivity (e.g., information flow), fostering in-transitivity . Using mixed research methods, we analyzed the social network structure of 175 female sex workers (FSWs) in post-socialist China. We identify four patterns of sex worker networks (i.e., dense, moderate, weak, separate relationships) depending on the degree of social cohesion between urban and rural networks. The distinct network configurations that we discovered result from a combination of factors: the level of hometown stigma (against female sex workers), age/work experience, and competitiveness in the sex industry. We conclude that triads trend toward in-transitivity when subgroups within social networks maintain competing cultural norms. As the first study mapping the social networks of female sex workers in China, this article demonstrates the women's aptitude for network management in order to prevent negative consequences of their engaging in stigmatized activities.