Illicit Sex in Ottoman and French Algeria

with Aurelie Perrier

hosted by Sam Dolbee

This episode is part of a series on Women, Gender, and Sex in Ottoman history

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The association of Algeria with sex figured prominently in the artwork and literature that was critiqued so famously by Edward Said in Orientalism. In this episode, Dr. Aurelie Perrier discusses the practical backdrop of this argument beyond the level of discourse by exploring illicit sex in 19th century Algeria under both Ottoman and French rule. Beginning with the fluid boundaries of Ottoman-administered sex work, she describes the transformations that accompanied French colonialism beginning in 1830. Contextualizing the sex trade in both eras with flows of labor migration, Perrier also illuminates the spatial dynamics of the French approach to prostitution, namely the birth of red-light districts and brothels. At once centralizing and segregating sex work, this new politics of space was intimately connected to the boundaries of race and class that were the premise of colonialism in the first place. Yet it appears in many cases these boundaries were transgressed, undermining the credibility of the colonial state. Moreover, even as the state claimed unprecedented control over the intimate lives of its citizens/subjects, people still managed to use the system for their own purposes, or evade it altogether. Still, the undeniable encroachment of the state left an indelible mark on Algeria's history with distinctly gendered implications.

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Aurelie Perrier is a recent PhD graduate in Middle East history from Georgetown University. Her dissertation examined the politics of gender in nineteenth and early twentieth-century colonial Algeria. Her broader research interests center on private life, the management of sexuality and the production of sentiment in colonial settings as well as on the construction of imperial masculinity.
Sam Dolbee is a doctoral candidate in the department of Middle East Studies at New York University. (see

Listeners might also like our podcasts on the history of North Africa available on tajine.

Episode No. 188
Release date: 26 March 2015
Location: Paris, France
Editing and Production by Chris Gratien
Bibliography and images courtesy of Aurelie Perrier
Episode Music: Debo Band - Ambassel


Germaine Aziz, Les chambres closes: histoire d'une prostituée juive d'Algérie, edited by Christelle Taraud (Paris, Nouveau Monde: 2007)
Christelle Taraud, La prostitution coloniale au Maghreb: Algérie, Tunisie, Maroc, 1830-1962 (Paris, Payot: 2003)
Ferhati Berkahoum, " la danseuse prostituee dite "Ouled Nail," entre mythe et realité (1830-1962). Des rapports sociaux et des pratiques concrètes," CLIO. Histoire, femmes et societés 17 (2003)
Bruce W. Dunne, "French Regulation of Prostitution in Nineteenth-Century Colonial Algeria, Arab Studies Journal 2, no.1 (Spring 1994): 24-30.

Postcard depicting street of Ouled Nails, Biskra


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