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date: 02 June 2020

Abstract and Keywords

This essay provides a global overview of prostitution from the early modern period to the present. Although the distinction between “premodern” and “modern” prostitution is not necessarily sharp, the profound political, military, and socioeconomic changes from roughly 1600 onward had an important impact on the sale of sex. Worldwide, the practice of prostitution and societal reactions to it were influenced by processes of colonization, industrialization, urbanization, the rise of nation-states, military modernization, nationalism, and war, as well as revolutions in politics, agriculture, transport, and communication. A long historical and broad geographical perspective reveals the continuities and discontinuities in the way commercial sex was practiced, perceived, and policed. This essay paper approaches prostitution from a double (top-down and bottom-up) perspective that integrates criminology and labor theory, presenting the views of authorities, anti-vice campaigners, and society at large while situating prostitution as an integral part of labor history.

Keywords: prostitution, global labor history, subaltern history, urban history, deviance, colonial experience

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