Economies of Desire

Sex and Tourism in Cuba and the Dominican Republic

Amalia L. Cabezas
Book Cover

PB: $29.95
EAN: 978-1-59213-750-3
Publication: Apr 09

HC: $76.50
EAN: 978-1-59213-749-7
Publication: Apr 09

Ebook: $29.95
EAN: 978-1-59213-751-0

232 pages
5.5 x 8.25
11 halftones

Money, sex, and love: Are they merely “market forces” in transnational tourism?

Read the Introduction (pdf).


Is a native-born tour guide who has sex with tourists—in exchange for dinner or gifts or cash—merely a prostitute or gigolo? What if the tourist continues to send gifts or money to the tour guide after returning home? As this original and provocative book demonstrates, when it comes to sex—and the effects of capitalism and globalization —nothing is as simple as it might seem. Based on ten years of research, Economies of Desire is the first ethnographic study to examine the erotic underpinnings of transnational tourism. It offers startling insights into the commingling of sex, intimacy, and market forces in Cuba and the Dominican Republic, two nations where tourism has had widespread effects. In her multi-layered analyses, Amalia Cabezas reconceptualizes our understandings of informal economies (particularly “affective economies”), “sex workers,” and “sexual tourism,” and she helps us appreciate how money, sex and love are intertwined within the structure of globalizing capitalism.


"Economies of Desire is very well written and compelling, drawing us into two historical contexts and illustrating women's agency as they negotiate the economic, political, and social constraints. Cabezas' many years of field research provide nuance to her analysis, and her critique of the feminist discourse about human rights is completely on target."Patricia Zavella, Professor of Latin American and Latino Studies at the University of California, Santa Cruz

"Cabezas’s arguments are enhanced by numerous personal interviews....The interviews and work experience are quite suggestive and add substantial insight and personal narrative to her theoretical constructions.... (T)his book provides a thought-provoking framework with which to ponder the pervasiveness and various manifestations of sex work in Cuba and the Dominican Republic.''' The Americas

"(W)ell written, engaging...(Cabezas) connects the socio-political and cultural factors within tourism as it intersects with individual agency. (The book) contributes to studies of tourism, transnationalism, gender and international migration.''' Contemporary Sociology

"(A)n ethnographically rich and analytically illuminating comparative study of heterosexual sex work in Cuba and the Dominican Republic....(Cabezas) offers an important model that will prove useful for future analysts of gender, Latin America and the Caribbean.... Economies of Desire will help us to unravel the intersecting nexus of affective ties, economic development and gender politics over the coming decades." The Journal of Latin American Studies

"The author's highly readable and vivid ethnographic writing and her blending of Cuban and Dominican ethnographic descriptions allow the reader to vicariously experience the often surprising convergences between what might otherwise be considered highly distinct ethnographic field sites....(T)he subtlety with which Cabezas engages local people and incorporates voices leaves the reader feeling grounded in local realities. This nuanced and readable ethnography will be of interest to a wide audience, ranging from scholars and students of Caribbean culture, globalization, tourism studies, women and gender studies, sexuality and sex work studies, and global trafficking campaigns."The American Journal of Sociology

"(G)roundbreaking...This ethnographically rich and well-written book challenges fundamental assumptions about the relationships among sex, money, and affect in the context of transnational tourism....This engaging ethnography skillfully challenges the concept of sex work as the only viable analytical tool for understanding interactions between tourists and locals....Economies of Desire is an important book that will be useful for both scholarly and general audiences. It makes significant contributions to the fields of feminist anthropology, the anthropology of globalization, and tourism studies. (Cabezas') self- reflexive, engaging writing style and generous depiction of her informants’ life stories and experiences will appeal to anyone interested in understanding the disparate effects of transnational capitalism and tourism development upon women in the Caribbean.''' Wagadu

"Cabezas presents a careful and somewhat controversial critique of sex work and human rights discourses within the contexts of neoliberal tourism development in the Caribbean. Her book, Economies of Desire is a reflexive account and feminist analysis of what working and living within two tourism destinations means....Cabezas provides a forceful critique of the scholarly literature on sex tourism by arguing against the reduction of men and women to the category of sex worker. By placing individuals within a framework that blends political economic analyses with emotive and affective explanations, Cabezas challenges common media and scholarly assumptions about why Cubans and Dominicans use sensuality and sex with foreign tourists."Bulletin of Latin American Research

"Cabezas undertakes a comparative analysis of sexual formations in two Caribbean tourist zones to demonstrate the ways that sexual and affective relationships are intimately linked to political economy.... The strongest chapter in Cabezas’s study is her ethnography of an all-inclusive resort in Varadero, a town on Cuba’s northern coast. Her analysis reveals the complicated terrain that hotel workers tread on, caught as they are among the expectations of their foreign bosses, government suspicions about their interactions with guests, and the challenge of meeting their own survival needs.... The most convincing analyses come from her material on Cuba, which sits at the forefront of the book’s various narratives, and she makes an important case for trying to put both Cuba and the Dominican Republic in the same frame." New West Indian Guide

"The findings and analysis...(by) Cabezas add(s) to the discourse on the impact of neoliberal economic strategies on women in the commercial sex sector, while also clearly illustrating the ideological differences that give different interpretations of women who are drawn/pushed into the sector." Gender and Society

"Economies of Desire is a welcome contribution to an emerging field of study, and is of interest to anyone engaged in the study of tourist industries in the Caribbean." Suomen Antropologi - Journal of the Finnish Anthropological Society

Table of Contents

Introduction - Affective Economies of Sexualized Tourism Chapter 1 - Tourism in Cuba and the Dominican Republic Chapter 2 - Neoliberal Times in Cuba and the Dominican Republic Chapter 3 - Eroticizing Labor in All-Inclusive Resorts Chapter 4 - Daughters of Yemaya and Other Luchadoras Chapter 5 - Tourism, Sex Work, and the Discourse of Human Rights Epilogue References

About the Author(s)

Amalia L. Cabezas is Assistant Professor in the Department of Women's Studies at the University of California, Riverside and co-editor of The Wages of Empire: Neoliberal Policies, Repression and Women's Poverty.