Theses Doctoral

Surfing Desire: Transnational Romance and Fantasies in Máncora, Peru

Hidalgo, Anna Patricia

We are living in an age of widening inequality and fragmented social solidarity and trust. Simultaneously, our social connections and relationships are increasingly disperse. In this context, how do people understand and respond to their experiences of marginality and alienation? This dissertation uses the case of transnational intimate relationships in Peru to understand how these relationships and the context in which they occur become sites for individuals to resist experiences of subordination and disaffection, and reimagine future possibilities for themselves.

Máncora, Peru is a small coastal town that has experienced rapid growth as a tourist destination, but that contends with high levels of socio-political and economic informality and precarity. Against this backdrop, I examine the relationships that have emerged between a group of local men and tourist women mainly from North America and Europe. Previous scholarship has understood these relationships as “female sex tourism” or “romance tourism,” however this dissertation moves beyond these sometimes one-dimensional accounts. Ultimately, beyond arguing that these relationships are not merely transactional, I argue that these relationships, and the context in which they occurred, provided the men and women I met in Máncora with something curative: a remedy for the marginality and alienation that they experienced in their everyday lives. Specifically, I examine how their relational pursuits of pleasure, escapism, and desire gave rise to fantasy. This fantasy fueled and was fueled by their relationships, and allowed the men and women to contest and cope with a sense of alienation and marginality engendered by neoliberalism, and make meaning under conditions of structural constraint.

Using qualitative methods, including participant observation, interviews, photography, and social media content analysis, I explore three key themes. Part one describes a masculine subculture that emerged on the beach where the men worked and met their partners. This subculture was premised on pleasure and leisure, and shaped how they cultivated relationships with their partners, managed everyday experiences of subordination, and planned for the future. Part two examines the economic and gendered dynamics that underpinned the women’s desire for travel and escape. These dynamics also shaped why they sought out relationships with unlikely partners, and how they envisioned that they could transform their everyday lives to be more fulfilling. Finally, part three explores the role of fantasy in how the men and women imagined alternative possibilities for themselves within their relationships, and in the touristic context of the town.

This dissertation also makes three key contributions. First, within sociology, Weber’s thesis of the “disenchantment of the world” is well known. It describes the sense of a loss of purpose, meaning, and transcendence in people’s lives as a consequence of modernity and the rationalization of social life. Less explored, however, is Weber’s recognition of the possibility of re-enchantment that can paradoxically emerge in response to these forces as people seek to recover meaning. This dissertation locates this process of re-enchantment in the ways that people engage with fantasy.

Second, this dissertation advances a sociology of fantasy. I define fantasy as material, economic, and erotic imaginaries that allow people to project and construct alternative lives. I argue that fantasy can be understood as operating beyond the realm of individual-level behavior, and be recognized as a social condition or relational phenomenon. I also argue that while sometimes improbable and limiting, fantasies can also be a productive means through which people cope with and contest experiences of marginality and alienation.

Finally, this dissertation makes a theoretical intervention by bridging conceptions of the future from sociology and queer theory. Queer theorists argue for utopian orientations to the world that permit for potentiality where there is none, and a being and doing for the future to move through the present. Sociologists have written about “imagined futures” to describe how people use seemingly irrational ideas about the future to make identity claims, assert moral worthiness, and transcend present realities. I argue that queer theory provides us with models for thinking about the reasons for, and means through which, marginalized people find spaces to exist, thrive, assert identity, and find community. A queer lens is useful because it demonstrates how and why marginality can lead to responses centered around pleasure, utopic imaginaries, and the projection of alternative futures.

Geographic Areas


This item is currently under embargo. It will be available starting 2028-08-23.

More About This Work

Academic Units
Thesis Advisors
Khan, Shamus
Ph.D., Columbia University
Published Here
September 6, 2023