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Confronting Law Affectively: Encounters of a Patpong Sex Tourist


When considering spaces of sex-work such as Patpong in Bangkok, Thailand, the inclination is to be drawn into habitual debates concerning the legitimacy of sex-work and the clear objectification of sex-workers. While these concerns are valid and real, there are significant absences in terms of the theoretical mapping of the space, such as the affect of the presence of law, bodies, space and the sexual encounter itself. Law emerges as the most significant presence, since it both forms the transactional surface of Patpong and produces the confusion and revilement that results from the confluence of cold legal exchange with the tactile intimacy of the sexual encounter. This text explores the ethnographic space of Patpong in order to understand ways in which law’s transactional, effective surface is both embodied through subjectivication and spatially emplaced, yet also disrupted through the affective agency of the bodies and spaces it enfolds in order to produce this surface. This exploration will point to the limitations of law’s effective surface and suggest ways in which law might be located within a regime of affect, which returns the law to the body it subjectivises.

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  1. 1.

    Wilson provides an overview of the complex economic, cultural and racial dynamics in relation to sex-work in Thailand and see also Doezema for an engaging exploration of the history and development of the practice, as well as the political and racial dimensions of global sex trafficking. Doezema’s work also considers the production and political context of sex-work discourse.

  2. 2.

    There is a substantial body of work that considers the racial dynamics of sex-work, as well as the connection between race, space and tourism, for example Neeley and Samura’s text. The current text is concerned with the material dynamics of space and bodies and material encounters. Although race is arguably a significant aspect to the relations between bodies and spaces, my concern here is to assess the confrontations that the basic presence of the material body and space can represent in a system of transactional laws of effect.

  3. 3.

    Texts such as Wilson’s and Doezema’s conduct valuable investigations into the sex-industry, but do not evaluate nor investigate spaces of sex-work from the perspective of the sex-tourist. While it is beyond the scope of this text to attempt to develop the literature in this way, I will hope to demonstrate that there is potential to encounter bodies and spaces in a productive way from this subjective position.

  4. 4.

    These qualities are created by texts that critique and explore, but they also create and fuel a kind of ‘hyper-reality’ in relation to the international sex-trade.

  5. 5.

    See again Wilson’s text for a rich and engaging description of the visual aspects of the space of Patpong.

  6. 6.

    Wilson describes encounters between sex-workers and clients where there are elements of manipulation in efforts to enhance their financial gain, as well as clients becoming long-term partners. Wilson also mentions that sex-workers tend to keep the details of their sexual encounters with clients private, as opposed to sharing financial tactics and other such tools of the trade with their colleagues.

  7. 7.

    Grosz writes that sexuality escapes its pre-designated regions and outside of its biological and sociologically represented places, as well as outside of legally imparted and ‘validated representations of desire’.

  8. 8.

    See Bell and Berkowitz for a historical problematisation of the continuous disembodiment of laws concerning sexuality through a perpetual struggle to govern and impart perspective to human sexual desire.

  9. 9.

    For Deleuze, all life is immanently undifferentiated. Life is a differential process which produces the individual. The individual is infinitely and in every case, different, see Deleuze (2004a). In this text it is argued that a transcendent law reigns, which maintains a stable and essentialised subjectivity. This act deprives life of its self-differentiating properties.

  10. 10.

    The Body without Organs is explored later as a potential way of escaping an overly signified body through encountering an immanent bodily strata closer to bodily materiality.

  11. 11.

    Taking a sex-worker ‘off’ means paying their bar fee (this is paid to the owners of the bar in which the sex-worker is based) and then negotiating a fee with the sex-worker to cover the subsequent sexual encounter that will take place away from the premises of the bar. The encounter will usually take place at the hotel room of the tourist. See Wilson (2004, pp. 61–101) for a detailed account.

  12. 12.

    See Wilson (2004, pp. 78–88) for an account of the economic structure of the Go–Go bar. It is structured in a way that ensures the bar is provided with its fee. The gaining of this fee is dependent on the productivity of the sex-worker, yet she will not earn tips or an ‘off’ fee without the customer paying the bar fee first.

  13. 13.

    See Wilson (2004, pp. 68–101) concerning the economic microcosm formed by the Go-Go Bar which is comprised of many different clusters of exchange, ranging from sale of specific ‘ladies drinks’ to ‘bar’ and ‘off’ fees, which all hold within them an element of intimate exchange.

  14. 14.

    The relationships which result from these transactions are economic and complex. My point is simply that the (economic and romantic) benefit through the transaction is not only attained by the sex-tourist.

  15. 15.

    See above at footnote 12.

  16. 16.

    See Wilson (2004, p. 71), although Wilson states that the women sex-workers say it is usually the male part of the couple that initiates these kind of encounters, which could be due to the man taking the lead in the encounter or even pressuring his partner into the scenario, it is also the case that these encounters can have a bisexual dynamic, both in terms of a female-male couple seeking the company of a female sex-worker, or a female-male couple seeking a transsexual/transgender or male sex-worker.


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I would like to thank Andreas Philippopoulos-Mihalopoulos for his comments on drafts of this article, and for his patience and thoughtful engagement with my work.

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Correspondence to Victoria Brooks.

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Brooks, V. Confronting Law Affectively: Encounters of a Patpong Sex Tourist. Law Critique 25, 289–309 (2014).

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  • Affect
  • Bangkok
  • Deleuze
  • Materiality
  • Sexuality
  • Sex-work
  • Space