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Prostitution in Late Imperial Russia

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From the 1840s until 1917, prostitution was legally tolerated across the Russian Empire and subject to medical and legal regulation. Medical police compiled information, conducted routine medical exams, and monitored registered prostitutes’ visibility and behavior in Russia’s rapidly changing urban spaces. The vast majority of women who sold sex hailed from the lower classes, as did their managers and clients. As Siobhan Hearne details in her new book Policing Prostitution, the world of sex work in late Imperial Russia provides a window into not just sexual practices. It paints a picture of lower-class urban society and the state’s attempts to police, surveil, and discipline it. The world of commercial sex was a contested one, as registered prostitutes, brothel madams, and others challenged local police, medial authorities, and reformists over the meanings of sex, labor, and morality.

Guest:

Siobhán Hearne is a historian of gender and sexuality in the Russian Empire and the Soviet Union. She is currently a Leverhulme Early Career Fellow in the School of Modern Languages and Cultures at Durham University. She’s the author of Policing Prostitution: Regulating the Lower Classes in Late Imperial Russia published by Oxford University Press.

Music:

Death Ride 69, “Sex Drive ’68,” Elvis Christ, 1989.