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Margaret O’Riordan Ross

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Prize for Best article on the history of Sexuality


Margaret O’Riordan Ross, “‘Your Town Is Rotten’: Prostitution, Profit, and the Governing of Vice in Kingston, Ontario, 1860s-1920s”. Journal of the History of Sexuality 32, no. 2 (May 2023): 174-201.

Ross’s research on sex work in Kingston, Ontario, is a stunning account that includes a cross-section of historical approaches, including social history, legal history, and a history of administrative capitalism. Drawing on a nuanced grasp of Foucauldian theories of regulation, disciplinary power, and governmentality, Ross offers a historical narrative and methodology centering on governance and power, one that destabilizes the historiographical discussion of sex work often framed within moral panic tropes. In this thoroughly researched and robust analysis, Ross uses a wide range of sources, such as newspaper articles, municipal police reports and minute books, census records, legislation and legal policy, cultural theory, and secondary sources on youth, gender, and delinquency. With expertise and skill, Ross weaves a sophisticated history of sex work that highlights a “historical shift over this period from legal punishment in the nineteenth century to the more extensive disciplinary web in which women were caught beginning in the early twentieth cen­tury.” This research concludes with a fascinating twist showing how by the 1920s the “government of sex work” shifted toward the “medicalization of immorality,” introducing yet another possible approach away from moral panic tropes and towards a deeper examination of the use of eugenics in the governing and disciplining of sex worker bodies.