Sabang used to be a small, marginalized Philippine fishing village that in the span of three decades became a well-known international sex tourism site. This thesis deals with the implications of tourism (including sex tourism) and how it has become embedded in the daily life in today’s Sabang. The thesis highlights the local populations’ diverse reactions to the various changes associated with tourism growth, in particular how various symbolic, moral, and spatial boundaries are constructed and maintained.
The ethnographic material examined in this thesis builds on several periods of fieldwork, in total 18 months, that were carried out between 2003 and 2015. Analytical tools found in tourism anthropology and in particular the branch of postcolonial tourism studies has guided the discussion and analysis of the socio-cultural effects of becoming a tourism town.
This thesis argues that complex networks of boundaries are significant in maintaining a sense of order and social cohesion in times of change. Notions of cultural differences are expressed through the narratives and behaviors of the various inhabitants, and contribute to the maintaining of boundaries within and between groups. From the beginning of tourism growth commercial sex has been central and has become a significant factor in the tourism economy. While residents acknowledge their dependency on the go-go bars, the business of the night is framed so as not to defeat the inhabitants’ struggles to maintain local community’s sense of morality, or at least to set up boundaries between the outsiders’ immorality and insiders’ morality. Tourism has also offered opportunities to challenge conventional social hierarchies and local seats of power, and there are also recurrent discussions about who has the right to control resources and who can claim entitlement to a place now shared by people from all over the world.