Thursday, November 3, 2022 - 00:00

In the late-19th and early-20th centuries British-colonial South Africa had several thriving sex industries. Sex work was an active feature in the illicit economies of Johannesburg, Durban, and Cape Town from their respective inceptions. Such 19th and 20th century sex work has been studied archaeologically since the 1980s in North America, but equivalent sustained work has not been conducted on contemporaneous South African sex work. With a focus on its spatial formation, O’Shea assesses whether Johannesburg’s sex industry was contained within a distinct red-light district between 1860 and 1910, and similarly for Cape Town and Durban. Her research also looks into the visibility of sex workers and their own voices within the South African colonial archive. Spatial data and potential material markers for identifying sex-work related sites was generated by producing a Google Earth map of brothel addresses acquired from the National Archives in Pretoria, and through using historiographical literature. Photographs of sex workers and pimps preserved in the colonial archive provided clues towards the potential materiality of sex work in South Africa, and the manner in which sex workers were criminalised in the colonial legal system.

Bio: Siobhan O’Shea is an early-career archaeologist, born and raised in Johannesburg. She is a recent graduate from the University of the Witwatersrand, where she was just completed her MSc in archaeology with distinction. Her research is rooted in the archaeology of sex, the archaeology of the working class, spatial archaeology, and documentary archaeology. She developed her research focus from an interest in archaeological approaches to gender studies and colonial-capitalist industries within a South African context. She hopes to contribute to archaeological understandings of illicit economies with her work going forward.

  • Date: 3 November 2022 19h30
  • Venue: The Auditorium, Roedean School, 35 Princess of Wales Terrace, Parktown, Johannesburg
  • Price: Non-members: R50, members: free
Events Exhibitions Tours
Tuesday, October 25, 2022 - 09:22

Back to Notices

Disclaimer: Any views expressed by individuals and organisations are their own and do not in any way represent the views of The Heritage Portal.