Governing Prostitution: Differentiating the Bad from the Bad

Accounts of the governance of prostitution have typically argued that prostitutes are, in one way or another, stigmatised social outcasts. There is a persistent claim that power has operated to dislocate or banish the prostitute from the community in order to silence, isolate, hide, restrict, or punish. I argue that another position may be tenable; that is, power has operated to locate prostitution within the social. Power does not operate to ‘desocialise’ prostitution, but has in recent times operated increasingly to normalise it. Power does not demarcate prostitutes from the social according to some binary mechanics of difference, but works instead according to a principle of differentiation which seeks to connect, include, circulate and enable specific prostitute populations within the social. In this paper I examine how prostitution has been singled out for public attention as a sociopolitical problem and governed accordingly. The concept of governmentality is used to think through such issues, providing, as it does, a non-totalising and non-reductionist account of rule. It is argued that a combination of self-regulatory and punitive practices developed during modernity to manage socially problematic prostitute populations.

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