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Reviewer: Scott Turner May Ross, is situated in nineteenth-century Paris. It was a period that was marked by economic revitalization and social and cultural transformation. The book reveals a myriad of strategies that were used by public and private planners during the period to redevelop Paris into a modern metropolis. On that latter point, the study offers some interesting clues to help explain the evolving nature of Parisian sexuality and sexual evolution in our own cities today.
The author guides the reader along a path that is etched in the historical record. That record includes documents from the National Archives of France and Paris, the courts, police reports, personal diaries, and more. From those s, a rich history comes to light, including a detailed series of interactions, concerns, and attitudes from a vast community network.
The network is a part of the story because within its nodes are the recordings of the interactions, attitudes, and decision making of its various parts. It is an interesting mix of stakeholders that includes madams, prostitutes, public administrators, police, business interests and moral entrepreneurs to name a few. This is quite a contrast from the professional and expert Public sex today that dominate our public discourse today.
In Paris, there were many voices sharing influence over public policy and the future of the city. Ross bears that out as he unravels their stories and identifies the mechanisms that shape Parisian life and its many shades of glamour. The central thesis in Public City, Public Sex rested on a series of propositions that were buttressed by revitalization and social control. Ross claimed that each time the Parisians redeveloped a section of their city, enhanced the public infrastructure, segregated the classes, or redeed public spaces, commuting and consumerism expanded.
In turn, new opportunities were created for women who sold sex to men and men who sought sex with other men. Which in turn triggered a new dimension of social control. This process is what Ross claimed was responsible for the nurturing and growth of two distinct sexual subcultures within the gay and lesbian community. He argued that these new cultures were of such a nature that anyone could belong to them or — at least temporarily. I reflected on the central thesis and concluded that it was one of the more insightful features of the book.
Contrast that with the American model that outlaws sex rendering the practice and those who participate criminals. Both approaches seem to have a similar result; more opportunities for sex.
Thus, there is logic to regulation and social control when it comes to sex work. In either case, though, opportunities for sex increase. He argued that as subcultures in the gay and lesbian community expanded, opportunities to participate in those subcultures increased.
So, as opportunities for sex increased and sexual subcultures expanded, they also evolved. Although his findings were related to Parisian culture, I could not help but consider whether the same dynamics are at work today in other cities like New York, New Orleans, Los Angeles, or even Muncie Indiana. If so, what are the implications? There was also some discussion about the patriarchal nature of Parisian culture in the study. That should not surprise anyone, considering that the study was situated in the nineteenth century.
Those who sold sex, primarily women, were treated differently than those who bought sex, primarily men.
It struck me that despite our differing attitudes on patriarchy, similar patterns exist in our own laws and in policing. So, here too, there seems to be a logic to how regulation and social control are carried out, then and now.
Indeed, I selected this book to review because I suspected that it would shed new insights on law, policing, social control, and sexuality and I was not disappointed. It was a sophisticated study that I would recommend to graduate level students and professionals. Upper-level sociology and criminal justice majors in undergraduate programs might also be well served reading it. Website deed by Red Dream Studios. Subscribe to our list and learn about upcoming reviews and news.
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