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"Let down the curtains around us" sex work in colonial Cairo 1882-1952

Biancani, Francesca (2012) "Let down the curtains around us" sex work in colonial Cairo 1882-1952. PhD thesis, London School of Economics and Political Science.

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The shift from pre-modern to modern sex work meant the “professionalization” of transactional sex, its commodification and the attending social stigmatization of the essentialized category of prostitutes as “public women”. This dissertation explores the construction of social marginality of sex workers in colonial Cairo (1882-1952), in the context of major economical and social changes and the development of dramatically new concepts about the scope of intervention of the State on society. The quantitative and qualitative change in sex work which took place in Cairo since the end of the nineteenth century was made possible by a number of structural factors such as the integration of Egypt in the global market in a subaltern position, the restructuring of autonomous households’ economy, the augmented economic social vulnerability of female economic roles in the job market, migration and rapid urban growth. At the same time, the new social meaning of prostitution, a permanent symbolic threat to the physical and moral welfare of the rising Egyptian nation, was discursively constructed by dominant positions, both by local and colonial elites. Prostitutes were used as dense referent to express a wide range of dominant anxieties about the social order, the definition of normative notions of Egyptian citizenship and colonial racial hierarchies. Positing the inextricable link between material and discursive formations, this study analyzes the political economy of sex work and combines a wide range of sources – governmental reports, reformist societies’ papers, court cases, contemporary press and semi-academic literature – to explore a space of subaltern and gendered agency which has been overlooked for long and endeavours to restore prostitution, generally considered as a marginal activity, to the history of the Egyptian nation.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Additional Information: © 2012 Francesca Biancani
Library of Congress subject classification: D History General and Old World > DT Africa
Sets: Departments > Government
Supervisor: Chalcraft, John and Chalcraft, John

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