Prostitution and the Ends of Empire

Scale, Governmentalities, and Interwar India

Prostitution and the Ends of Empire

Book Pages: 296 Illustrations: 8 illustrations Published: September 2014

Author: Stephen Legg

Asian Studies > South Asia, Gender and Sexuality > Sex and Sexuality, Geography

Officially confined to red-light districts, brothels in British India were tolerated until the 1920s. Yet, by this time, prostitution reform campaigns led by Indian, imperial, and international bodies were combining the social scientific insights of sexology and hygiene with the moral condemnations of sexual slavery and human trafficking. These reformers identified the brothel as exacerbating rather than containing "corrupting prostitutes" and the threat of venereal diseases, and therefore encouraged the suppression of brothels rather than their urban segregation. In this book, Stephen Legg tracks the complex spatial politics surrounding brothels in the interwar period at multiple scales, including the local, regional, national, imperial, and global. Campaigns and state policies against brothels did not just operate at different scales but made scales themselves, forging new urban, provincial, colonial, and international formations. In so doing, they also remade the boundary between the state and the social, through which the prostitute was, Legg concludes, "civilly abandoned."


"This is an important book, one that refuses to accept the sexual contours of prostitution in the context of empire and insists instead on the legislative, spatial, judicial, disciplinary, and narrative aspects of colonial preoccupation with Indian morality.... The scalar reading the book employs is an elegant formulation of the need to consider the multiple trajectories of nation, city, gender, agency, and governance not only through the dualities of the colonial relationship between England and India but also within the expanded scope of the interwar period in Europe and Asia." — Harleen Singh, American Historical Review

"This book is crisp and compelling and will be read with interest by those studying colonial South Asia, the regulation of sexuality, governmentality, scale, and empire, among others....Legg convincingly and provocatively argues for a study of empire that reveals its ‘nodes of violence, fragility, contradiction, and complexity’ (p.38), and that in this case this included a scale-inflected shaming of sex workers and deployment of scandal to defend empire and intervention, even as these interventions deepened the suffering of many women." — Sara Smith, Journal of Historical Geography

"[A] smart and original contribution to the expansive literature on colonialism and prostitution.... Legg’s efforts to interweave archival and theoretical insights—to write across scales—makes Prostitution and the Ends of Empire a bold, exciting and ambitious project." — Renisa Mawani, Pacific Affairs

"[T]his book sheds new light onto still occluded areas and evokes productive questions that reach beyond the specific areas and topics under discussion." — Lesley A. Hall, Canadian Journal of History

"Legg has produced a detailed and well-researched account of colonial governmentality offering novel insights into the relationship between the state and civil society which speaks to scholars across many disciplines." — Amil Mohanan, Social & Cultural Geography

"The fabric Legg weaves is indeed rich, and accessible to many different readerships, all of which will benefit from the important work undertaken here." — Jessica Namakkal, Journal of International and Global Studies

"Legg opens up the constitution of state/civil society, province/nation, international/national, and metropole/periphery.....Nimbly moving through a range of literatures, archives, and materials in a way that is itself multiply scaled, Prostitution and the Ends of Empire offers insights for scholars across disciplines." — Tara Suri, H-Law, H-Net Reviews

"Legg’s attention to archival details and his innovative use of scalar analysis is an admirable example of scholarship that attends, at once, to global and local histories." — Sandy Chang, H-Asia, H-Net Reviews

"This meticulously-researched study . . . exposes a colonial state that, while it no longer had the power to pass All India Acts regarding sexuality, had by the 1920s begun to develop new means of regulating it." — Deana Heath, Gender & History

"Rather than simply telling a story of imperial governance and the colonised body of the prostitute in a racial setting, Legg complicates and pluralises the account by focusing on a variety of networks or scales (the local, the national and the British/international sphere) by redefining ‘apparatus’ and ‘assemblage’.  . . . Legg’s book contributes admirably to women’s history by recovering processes and events that shaped dominant ideas on state reform and public morality in society primarily outside the domestic domain." — Jyoti Atwal, South Asia Research

"Prostitution and the Ends of Empire deftly reveals that the attack on the brothel in interwar Delhi was more than just a city-specific act, but rather demonstrated the power of international, imperial, and local networks. Using Foucault's and Agamben's work, Stephen Legg persuasively shows the reimagining of the brothel as a space of danger that required its suppression. Legg's use of scalar analysis is carefully constructed and brilliantly conclusive. This is an important and original reading of colonial prostitution." — Philippa Levine, author of Prostitution, Race and Politics: Policing Venereal Disease in the British Empire

"Stephen Legg's Prostitution and the Ends of Empire excels in providing an insightful analysis of how the 'brothel' in colonial India, once tolerated for its alleged socially useful fringe benefits, became during the interwar period the target of an extensive campaign for abolition. Legg is at his best in the meticulous care with which he charts the roles and motivations of a wide variety of civil society actors—individuals, institutions, and organizations—who were important players, alongside the colonial state, in this interwar shift, including the policy of the forced removal of public 'prostitutes' out of the city in Delhi, from places like Chowri Bazar and Ajmere Gate Bazar, to marginal locations. With the skills of a geographer, Legg tacks nimbly between the space of the brothel itself and the interlocking scales of the urban, provincial, national, imperial, and international that framed it as a problem. This smart and thoroughly researched book will be welcomed by students of colonial urbanism, of sexuality, and of transational methodologies in the study of India." — Mrinalini Sinha, author of Specters of Mother India: The Global Restructuring of an Empire


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Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

Stephen Legg is Associate Professor in the School of Geography at the University of Nottingham. He is the author of Spaces of Colonialism: Delhi's Urban Governmentalities and the editor of Spatiality, Sovereignty and Carl Schmitt: Geographies of the Nomos.

Table of Contents Back to Top
Preface vii

Introduction. Spatial Genealogies from Segregation to Suppression 1

1. Civil Abandonment: The Inclusive Exclusion of Delhi's Prostitutes 41

2. Assembling India: The Birth of SITA 95

3. Imperial Moral and Social Hygiene 169

Conclusion. Within and beyond the City 239

Notes 247

References 259

Index 277
Sales/Territorial Rights: World

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Additional InformationBack to Top
Paper ISBN: 978-0-8223-5773-5 / Cloth ISBN: 978-0-8223-5759-9
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