Cleansing the Metropolis: Sex Work and the Politics of Zero Tolerance

Phil Hubbard, “Cleansing the Metropolis: Sex Work and the Politics of Zero Tolerance” August 2004 41:9 Urban Studies, 1687–1702


Although red-light districts have long been characteristic features of Western cities, these spaces are periodically subject to forms of moral cleansing and purification enacted by the state and law. Focusing on central Paris and the West End of London, this paper describes recent ‘Zero Tolerance’ policies designed to displace sex work from such spaces. Exploring the motives for such actions, the paper argues that policy-makers are seeking to demonstrate their ability to assert moral order by reclaiming red-light districts from sex workers. Simultaneously, it is suggested that this process of ‘purification’ is intended to maximise the potential for capital accumulation in city centres via the promotion of family-oriented gentrification. The paper concludes by thinking through the implications of this, posing the question: is it right that sex workers are being excluded from our city centres?

Full text available here.


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