'Sidewalk’s Queens': The Economics of Popular Prostitutions in Fin-De-Siècle Paris

30 Pages Posted: 16 Nov 2014 Last revised: 10 May 2020

Date Written: August 15, 2013


This paper aims at understanding the economic rationalities of the different actors of the informal public prostitution network and at measuring how their behavior impacts the financial considerations of the other actors of the urban economy. This chapter follows an economic history perspective which enables us to show that the meaning of prostitution varied largely depending on the immediate socio-geographic context. It also gives us the tools to fully grasp the complexity of an economic configuration based on power struggles and dynamics, without simplifying them. We feel the economic issues which are street prostitution specific but which also enlighten other issues of the modernization of urban economies in the Western world are best apprehended by a thick description of the economic practices which built up a local space – the working-class La Goutte-d’Or district – where streetwalkers were remarkably numerous. This sort of historical ethnography is the result of a thorough consultation of testimonies bequeathed by all those who were concerned by the dynamics of sex trade. The echo chamber created by these archives of the Préfecture de police – the headquarter of the Parisian police – sheds light on an economic reality in which a variety of figures intervene: prostitutes and clients, procurers and madams, wine merchants and small local business-owners, watchmen and policemen, landlords and building owners. The interests of these economic agents combined very differently and were at times complementary and at others strictly antagonistic. One needs to explore the way these strategies shaped and structured the local economic space, notably by untangling the more or less conflictual ties between the informal economy of public prostitution and the formal economy of the district.

Keywords: prostitution, economic history

JEL Classification: N00, N01

Suggested Citation

Frondizi, Alexandre and Porcher, Simon, 'Sidewalk’s Queens': The Economics of Popular Prostitutions in Fin-De-Siècle Paris (August 15, 2013). Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2524485 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.2524485

Alexandre Frondizi


Rue de l'Université 13

Simon Porcher (Contact Author)

Université Paris Panthéon-Assas ( email )

1 rue Guy de La Brosse
Paris, 75005

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