2013-2014 Colloquium Series

The Tourism Studies Working Group is pleased to announce

Bousbir, the Quartier Réservé

Jean-Francois Staszak
Professor, Geography
University of Geneva, Switzerland

Friday, February 7, 5:30 PM
Gifford Room, 221 Kroeber Hall
University of California, Berkeley

Bousbir, the quartier réservé (red-light-district) of colonial Casablanca, was built on the request of French administration in 1924. More than 600 mainly local sex workers lived in this secluded “erotic city”, before it was officially closed in 1955. Boursbir’s master plan owed much to modernist town-planning, but its urban landscapes looked like a Hollywood setting for the One thousand and one nights. The district was not only a Taylorist sex factory rationalizing colonial prostitution but also a pornotropic theme park visited by international tourists. They may not have been sex tourists in a sense that they did not necessarily engage in sexual activity with local sex workers, but they surely experienced some kind of exotic and erotic slumming, walking Bousbir’s streets, enjoying the transgressive oriental atmosphere and attending sex shows.

As exemplified in Bousbir, colonial prostitution and sex tourism have much in common. Based on the same race, gender and class matrix of domination, they rely on the same imaginative geographies. It is impossible and pointless to determine which Western visitor in Bousbir is a client of the sex workers and which is “just” a tourist. Bousbir questions the connections between tourism and prostitution: it could be argued that in Bousbir like in many colonial red-light-districts (and maybe even more generally) (i) for Western man, engaging in sexual intercourse with a local sex worker, was a kind of touristic experience (ii) for international tourists, the attraction of the Orient partly relied on the eroticization and the (supposed) sexual availability of local women, to a point that every tourist was in a sense a sex tourist. Bousbir questions the origins of sex tourism, but also its limits and definition.

Speaker Bio:
Jean-François Staszak is a full Professor in the Department of Geography 
at the University of Geneva (Switzerland) and a visiting scholar at UCLA (2013-2014). His early research focused on the history and epistemology of geography, and then with economic and cultural geography. His most recent work addresses geographical imaginaries in the fields of art (painting, photography, dance, cinema) and tourism, analyzing the geographical othering process and especially the eroticization of the Exotic. His understanding of the articulation of geographical representations, practices,
and realities owes much to deconstructionist theories and to postcolonial and gender studies.

Image Caption: Postcard « Casablanca. Vue aérienne du quartier réservé dit ‘Bousbir’ » (Casablanca. Aerial view of the red-light district known as ‘Bousbir’), Flandrin.

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