The operation of the British model of imperialism was never consistent, seldom coherent, and far from comprehensive. Purity campaigns, controversies about the age of consent, the regulation of prostitution and passage and repeal of contagious diseases laws, as well as a new legislative awareness of homosexuality, were all part of the sexual currency of the late Victorian age. Colonial governments, institutions and companies recognised that in many ways the effective operation of the Empire depended upon sexual arrangements. They devised elaborate systems of sexual governance, but also devoted disproportionate energy to marking and policing the sexual margins. This book not only investigates controversies surrounding prostitution, homosexuality and the age of consent in the British Empire, but also revolutionises people's notions about the importance of sex as a nexus of imperial power relations. The derivative hypothesis, which reads colonial sexuality politics as something England did or gave to its colonies, is illustrated and made explicit by the Indian Spectator, which seemed simply to accept that India should follow English precedent. In 1885, the South Australian parliament passed legislation, similar to England's Criminal Law Amendment Act, which raised the age of consent from 13 to 16 and introduced a series of restrictions and regulations on sexual conduct. Richard Francis Burton's case against the moral universalism and sex between men are discussed. 'Cognitively mapping' sexuality politics, the book has traced connections between people, places and politics, exploring both their dangers and opportunities, which revolve in each case around embroilments in global power.
This introduction presents an overview of the key concepts discussed in the subsequent chapters of this book. The book examines the spatial dynamics of power with respect to the contested regulation of sexuality. It explains, most metropolitan purity movements were English rather than British, and 'English' was generally invoked in purity rhetoric and used to describe 'national' activist organisations. The book explores the power of geographical imagination for activism and criticism to bring a new dimension to histories of empire and sexuality. It contributes to broader postcolonial projects, particularly those concerned with an analysis of imperial power, a critique of Eurocentric ways of seeing and the development of a postcolonial geography. The book presents free-standing exploration of spatial politics and of the spatiality of imperialism, which explores Josephine Butler's claim that geographical perspectives may open up new fields of understanding and political action.
English purity campaigners saw their own country as a net exporter of the ideas, laws and movements that drove sexuality politics around the world. Parallels and coincidences in global sexuality politics, past and present, have sometimes been attributed to the diffusion of ideas and identities. This chapter examines the processes by which purity movements may have spread from England to other parts of the British Empire. English purity campaigners recognised distinctions within both Indian and English society, which further complicated the hierarchical geographies of sexuality politics. Invoking the imperial power of which she was often critical, Ellice Hopkins, argued that English purity movements would inevitably 'influence in the world at large. Perhaps the most tangible way in which purity campaigns were extended was through travel. Before he ventured into travel and travel-writing proper, Alfred Stace Dyer used quasi-travel narratives to strengthen the overseas work of English purity campaigns.
The derivative hypothesis, which reads colonial sexuality politics as something England did or gave to its colonies, is illustrated and made explicit by the Indian Spectator, which seemed simply to accept that India should follow English precedent. One way of provincialising sexuality politics, which addresses 'the problem of getting beyond Eurocentric histories', is to shift attention from European authors and texts to non-European readers, and from textual origins to contexts in which readings take place. Behramji Malabari's active part in sexuality politics, was a function of his 'power to read' and in broader terms of his elite social position within colonial Bombay. Both Malabari and W.T.Stead were media personalities whose journalistic, political and moral reputations underpinned their campaigns, which focused on a few key issues, above all the protection of women and the age of consent.
Australian activists on the age of consent and prostitution
The settlers whose interventions were more colonial agents than they were subjects, though their positions and interventions were non-metropolitan, and as such they illuminate some of the political life that existed beyond England. Colonial legislators and activists looked to, and often appeared to copy, English models of regulation and resistance. In Australia, similarly, much of the content of social purity movements could be traced to English and American sources. Regulation Bills, put before and sometimes passed by responsible colonial governments, were generally modelled directly or indirectly on their English counterparts. Australian colonial governments assumed responsibility for many areas of legislation, including the regulation of prostitution and the determination of ages of consent. The South Australian parliament passed legislation, similar to England's Criminal Law Amendment Act, which raised the age of consent from 13 to 16 and introduced a series of other restrictions and regulations on sexual conduct.
This chapter explores the heterogeneity of imperial sexuality politics and more generally of imperialism from a different angle. It suggests that regulation travelled poorly to Africa, in part because it was impeded by colonial environments, as seen and experienced by those who inhabited and governed them. English purity movements made an equally weak impression in Africa, despite pretensions to world-wide, or at least empire-wide, significance. When the British attempted to overreach their limited authority in West Africa, they were opposed. The chapter traces the deliberations on the possibility of introducing contagious diseases (CD) laws on the part of key figures in Sierra Leone's colonial establishment. It reflects and perhaps reproduces a preoccupation within historical and geographical research on imperialism and sexuality with CD laws. It might equally be argued that the government of Sierra Leone did not introduce CD laws because it had found other ways of regulating prostitution.
Introducing a stronger form of regulation in Bombay
This chapter examines the productivity of the margins with reference to material colonial geographies, the next turns to their metaphorical counterparts, exploring the form and significance for sexuality politics of imaginative and discursive colonial geographies. The special conditions that allowed certain parts of certain colonies to become laboratories were a function of specific dynamic situated intersections of colonial power. Certain large colonial cities such as Bombay have been located with reference to models of urbanism and urban governance that were not only described by historians as modern, but conceived as such by contemporary planners, civic leaders and colonial governors. The municipal authority also played an important part in the adoption of the Indian Contagious Diseases (CD) Act in Bombay. The Bombay Act provided for the registration and medical examination of 'all common prostitutes' living within the city, under the supervision of a health officer.
In this chapter, Richard Francis Burton charted and deployed a series of sexual geographies. He asserted that men who have sex with men 'deserve, not prosecution but the pitiful care of the physician and the study of the psychologist'. The Sotadic Zone is distanced from England, and is both geographically and sexually disconnected. Most tangibly, Burton reproduces geographical and imaginative distance between contemporary constructions of Occident and Orient, by pinning his Sotadic Zone. By traversing a series of sexual cultures, accumulating a picture of diversity, he assembled a case against the moral universalism of his time. Most immediately, Burton spoke to sexuality politics in British colonies. English laws governing sex between men, like those on other subjects, were extended to some other parts of the Empire. The European sexualisation of Africans, central to colonial discourse, spoke to a wider set of colonial questions and relationships.
This chapter shows how the configuration of peoples and place in Sierra Leone generated a political dynamic of its own. Both in experience and imagination, Sierra Leone could be, if not exactly anarchic, then at least a creative and experimental space. The newspaper industry, which flourished in Sierra Leone in the second half of the nineteenth century, did so largely in the hands of Creole-identified proprietors and journalists. In colonial sites such as Bombay, Sydney and Sierra Leone, daily life brought people into contact and difference into focus, and engendered creativity and social change. The chapter explores moral arguments that emerged from the experience and representation of contact. As a contact zone, the colony fostered a series of productive encounters: between Europeans and Africans, Creoles and natives, and Creoles of different class and ethnicity.
This conclusion presents some closing thoughts on the concepts discussed in the preceding chapters of this book. The book examines the spatial dynamics of power with respect to the contested regulation of sexuality, aiming to critique and contest Eurocentric accounts of the same. It shows how the apparent diffusion of metropolitan ideas was not structured around a simple geographical division between innovation and adoption, active and passive political action, in the so-called centre and margins respectively. 'Cognitively mapping' sexuality politics, the book has traced connections between people, places and politics, exploring both their dangers and opportunities, which revolve in each case around embroilments in global power. The book's most sustained contribution to postcolonial criticism revolves around its elaboration of the spatiality of imperial sexuality politics and more generally imperial power.