Compromised Positions: Prostitution, Public Health, and Gender Politics in Revolutionary Mexico City. KATHERINE ELAINE BLISS:. University Park, PA: Pennsylvania State University Press, 2001.

Robert Buffington


There is something about the world’s oldest profession that seems to attract the best and brightest commentators on human social relations. For the turn of the nineteenth-century, it was male novelists like Emile Zola (France) and Federico Gamboa (Mexico). For the turn of the twentieth, it has been female historians like Judith Walkowitz (England), Donna Guy (Argentina), and, most recently, Katherine Bliss. The book’s expansive subtitle —from prostitution to public health to gender politics— gives some indication of prostitution’s appeal. As the introduction explains in more detail: “Studying the urban debates over prostitution, public health, gender relations, and reformism is . . . a good way to shed light on questions of revolution, state-building, and popular experience”(p. 11). Compromised Positions also manages the delicate trick of engaging important theoretical questions—gender and sexuality, biopolitics and governmentability, state hegemony and popular resistance, the practices of everyday life—while sparing the uninitiated or uninterested reader distracting forays into high theory.

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