From Plaçage to Sugar Babies: Contracts for Intimate Attachment from the Nineteenth Century to Today

Friday, January 2, 2015: 2:00 PM
Conference Room D (Sheraton New York)
Adrienne Davis, Washington University Law School
Within discussions of distinct economies of payment for sexual relations, scholars have given sustained attention to prostitution, cultural phenomena such as “treating,” and, comparatively, institutions such as hetaera in Greece, and hijra in Pakistan.  Surprisingly, the institution of plaçage in the U.S. has received little attention.  Indeed, many are surprised to learn that such contracts for sexual commerce across the races were routinely enforced, as common law has long held that transactions for sex, known as meretricious contracts, are not enforced.  Despite this oft-repeated doctrinal mantra, absorbed by every first year law student, plaçage permeated certain nineteenth century sexual political economies.  This paper explores these economies and the role of plaçage, and places and the men who sought them, within them.  It first excavates the legal norms that simultaneously prohibited and authorized the practice, situating them within both the English common law and European civil law traditions in place in Louisiana.  It then focuses on the practice itself from two perspectives.  It considers the so-called bargaining that plaçage entailed, what brought various interest holders to pursue these “deals,” and what, precisely, were the nature of those interests.  It then considers the relationships themselves, as examples of both racial pleasures that could transform into intimate attachments and also as a perhaps last gasp of familial efforts to regulate their children’s intimate lives.  It concludes by considering whether these placee contracts, in the end, contained or authorized threats to systems of white wealth and racial supremacy.
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