Migration, Sexual Labor, and State Governance in the French Atlantic and the British World

AHA Session 222
Saturday, January 5, 2019: 3:30 PM-5:00 PM
Chicago Room (Palmer House Hilton, Fifth Floor)
Jessica R. Pliley, Texas State University
Jessica R. Pliley, Texas State University

Session Abstract

This panel places sexual labor at the center of transnational and intra-imperial migration governance. The presentations explore how nation-states linked migration, gender, and sexuality; the ways that women’s mobility across national and colonial borders was facilitated or complicated by race and nationality; and the role of sexual labor in distinguishing licit from illicit migration. Starting in the late nineteenth century, border control and other forms of migration policing reflected the nation-state’s oscillating view of sexual labor as either a sanitary and social threat that required regulation and control, or a necessary evil for the social and economic stability of modernizing societies. Border control, expulsion, repatriation, and the policing of women’s mobility became key to the management of sex and the reproduction of society, especially with regard to the migration of women ostensibly involved in sexual labor.

Each presentation focuses on a different dimension of migration control and the effects, whether imagined or real, of migration on gender and sexual relations. Sandy F. Chang analyzes how migration governance to British Malaya in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries used Chinese women’s mobility to respond to local men’s sexual needs and to ensure the reproduction of a labor force that was key to the prosperity of the colony. Chinese women were subjected to a specific form of migration surveillance based on their gender and racial identity, yet at the same time they were perceived as desirable migrants since they productively participated in the local sexual economy. Elisa Camiscioli examines cases of return migration of French women considered trafficked women who, in the early twentieth century, appealed for their repatriation from various cities across the Americas following an unsuccessful experience in the sex industry or in a milieu associated with prostitution. In examining state responses to these requests, Camiscioli explores how the line between licit and illicit migration was being defined and redefined at a time of mounting anxieties regarding the traffic in women. Finally, Caroline Sequin investigates the effects of imperial mobility on prostitution policing in France and colonial Senegal. Rising concerns about the development of interracial sexual-conjugal relations, fuelled by the mobility of French citizens and colonial subjects within the French Empire in the first half of the twentieth century, culminated in the adoption of racialist policies dictating the creation and access to metropolitan and colonial brothels. In promoting fleeting sexual encounters within brothels, local authorities hoped to mitigate the long-lasting effects of imperial mobility on the racial makeup of France and colonial society.

See more of: AHA Sessions