As ongoing controversies over commercial sex attest, the relationship between capitalism and sexuality is deeply contentious. Economic and sexual practices are assumed to be not only separable but antithetical, hence why paid sex is so often criminalized and morally condemned. Yet, while sexuality is highly politicized in moral terms, it has largely been overlooked in the discipline devoted to the study of global capitalism, international political economy (IPE).
Likewise, the prevailing field in sexuality studies, queer theory, has frequently sidelined questions of political economy. This book calls for critical scholarship to challenge the economy/sexuality dichotomy as it not only structures disciplinary debates but is part and parcel of capitalism itself.
Capitalism's Sexual History brings IPE and queer theory into close dialogue to explore how the division between economy and sexuality has been historically produced to appear both natural and moral. By examining sex work in Britain, Nicola J. Smith draws on in-depth archival research to chart a history of capitalism's sexual relations from medieval times to the present day. She shows how capitalist development was made possible by the appropriation of unpaid sexual labor that relied,
in turn, on the repression and production of paid sex. By tracing the historical construction of boundaries around sex and work, this book exposes how capitalism has long profited from the notion that the sexual and economic spheres can and must be kept apart. In so doing, it offers a distinctive contribution
to the study of sex and work as well as to wider scholarly, activist, and policy debates about political economy, reproductive labor, gender equality, and sexual justice.