THE GENEALOGY OF THE PROSTITUTE: DEFINING AND DISCIPLINING PROSTITUTION THROUGH JOURNALISM IN VICTORIAN ENGLAND, 1809-1886
University of Kansas
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This dissertation is an exploration into the changing definition of a prostitute during the nineteenth century in Britain and the actions taken in response to that changing definition. I argue that different definitions of "prostitute" that emerge during this time correspond to the various means of control, discipline, and legislation of prostitution. Throughout the 1800s, "prostitute" meant a brazen harlot, a fallen woman, a factory worker, a capable capitalist, and an underage child. Each definition signifies a particular set of medical, social, scientific and religious assumptions that informed political aims and disciplinary measures. Additionally, I contend that the debate over prostitution in the 1800s demonstrates the failure of medical and scientific discourses in shaping the discourse over prostitution. While religious, medical, social scientific and sexual discourse all had a hand in contributing to the definition of "prostitute," social scientists persistently worried over the accuracy of statistics and the veracity of their studies. Their inability to accurately depict the prostitute necessitated a different means of generating knowledge. Thus, it was the surveilling functions of journalism--manifested through the voices of anonymous prostitutes in letters to the editor of the Times, interviews, and the particularly the sensational tactics of "new journalism" practiced by Stead--which came to have increasing influence over the rhetorical formations of "prostitute" within public discourse. Through the first-hand testimony of anonymous streetwalkers, or through the eyewitness accounts of an editor, the prostitute depicted within the pages of newsprint bore none of the uncertainty found within medical studies or reformers' tracts. Therefore, tracing the debate over prostitution also reveals the ways in which the newspaper evolved throughout the nineteenth century as a means to shape public discourse.
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