2012 ASA DISSERTATION AWARD RECIPIENT:
KIMBERLY KAY HOANG
This year’s Dissertation Award was given to Dr. Kimberly Hoang.
Dr. Hoang is a postdoctoral fellow in the Program in Poverty, Justice, and Human Capabilities at the Center for the Study of Women, Gender, and Sexuality at the Kinder Institute for Urban research at Rice University. She will be teaching in the Department of Sociology at Boston College starting in the fall of 2013.
She received her Ph.D from the University of California, Berkeley in 2011. Her MA in Sociology was from Stanford University in 2006 and she graduated Summa Cum Laude in Communication & Asian American Studies from the University of California Santa Barbara, in 2005.
Dr. Hoang’s dissertation, New Economies of Sex and Intimacy in Viet Nam, was the culmination of over 15 months of ethnographic research from 2009-2010 in Ho Chi Minh City. Her research focused on four niche markets in the city’s sex industry. As she states in her abstract, Dr Hoang accomplished this ethnography by “working as a bartender and hostess in four different bars that catered to wealthy local Vietnamese men and their Asian business partners, overseas Vietnamese men living in the diaspora, Western expatriates, and Western budget travelers. “
While serving as hostess in theses bars, Dr. Hoang spoke with the clients, the workers, and the madams known as “mommies.” These interviews aluminate a world in which, to paraphrase her dissertation chair’s nominating letter, all those involved navigate social and global forces to enhance their social and economic position in the global economy thus weaving together the micro and macro socio-economic worlds.
Dr. Hoang presents the workers not as victims of global economic restructuring in the usual sense of the term but as “economic actors who facilitated business and political ties that are critical to Vietnam’s development.” It is the women’s bodies that function as technologies of Vietnam’s changing economy as “it pushed through to emerge as a rising dragon.” Using this perspective of women as economic actors, Dr. Hoang asserts that “the sex industry is central to rather than peripheral” to Vietnam’s economy because it brought in foreign direct investments “from men who engaged participated in the sex industry for business purposes and overseas remittances from men engaged in recreational sex. In sum, sex workers were bringing in resources directly into the economy.
Acknowledging the complexities of a post-colonial, post-war context, Dr. Hoang sees the women, the customers, and the business owners as “uneasily poised between local cultures and globalized spaces” therefore giving her an opportunity to interrogate the changing global market and the ways in which space may be opened up to reconfigure hierarchies of race, class, and gender. This is an especially important contribution to the scholarly research and conversation on women and sex work which, for the most part, has seen women only as exploited, passive victims and helps open up a conversation and on-going dialogue with feminisms and sociological research.
This work is also almost unique in that it tells the stories of both the workers and the clients. Hearing both sides allows for additional insight into a “globally mobile clientele” as well as increasing our understanding of masculinity in the context of a post-colonial, globalizing economy.
In addition, Dr. Hoang drills down to the micro level aspects of the commodification of love, intimacy, and care that is a part of modern and postmodern social life. The relationships among the women workers, the male customers, and the owners exist not just on the macro level of global economics, or the national level of a changing economy but also on the everyday, workaday mundane activities of survival.
Finally, Dr. Hoang creates a new conceptual tool she calls globally grounded ethnography, which is a welcome addition to the both the fields of globalization and ethnography. This idea combines a relational analysis to illustrate how multiple constructions of gender emerge across local, national, and global socio-spaces.
In sum, Dr. Hoang pushes some traditional sociological research methods to advance ideas about globalization and the intersections of class, gender, and ethnicity to create new ways of understanding how multiple identities and economic strategies shape the new emerging relations of production and reproduction in the global marketplace.
The committee offers its congratulations to Dr. Kimberly Hoang for an excellent dissertation and one which we think will make a major contribution to the fields of gender, sexuality, and political economy in a global context.