Discourse and the power of symbols : representation and regulation of prostitution in France 1831-1975 Public Deposited

http://ir.library.oregonstate.edu/concern/graduate_thesis_or_dissertations/41687n533

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  • This is a study of the representations of prostitutes and prostitution produced within a particular historical framework-regulationism. Drawing support from public health movements, campaigns against depopulation and degeneration and protest from feminists and socialists, the "French system" of regulation of prostitution occupied center stage in social debates from the mid-nineteenth century to 1975. Within this context, images of prostitutes and their work proliferated. Prostitutes came to symbolize the key tensions of modern, industrial, urban life. Like women generally, prostitutes represented the social body. Their bodies, as female bodies, were caught in a network of attempts to "properly" channel sexual activity. Through their "promiscuous" lifestyles, class origins, and social mobility, they violated key tenets of familialism, and models of proper womanhood, and they eluded the determined gaze of regulationists. Additionally, prostitution became associated with the "dangerous" working classes so that discourses about the control and regulation of prostitutes' bodies were inseparable from similar discourses about the control of the working classes. The bourgeois fears and anxieties about the threats of working-class revolt within the tight quarters of Paris brought to the surface underlying themes of the inherent danger of the city, the assumed irrationality of the "masses," and the threat posed by dangerous and sexually "loose" women. My method has been to examine these constructions and how they were produced in discourses. This makes my study a "discursive" one and situates my work in a particular genre of historical study usually referred to a "postmodern." However, I would like to emphasize that part of my method has included an attempt to find a balance between the material conditions of a French society in transition by referring to the themes of industrialization and women's condition with the more linguistic aspects of the production of subjects through language. This approach necessarily makes my project limited; but, as I discuss in the conclusion, there are no historical records of desire and pleasure that can merely be taken up and reproduced for our contemporary eyes. I refer to this as an empirical problem in the history of sexuality in the Conclusion. I have found that it is impossible to "discover "what women (and men) thought and felt, which necessitates dealing with discursive production.
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