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Re-Configuring the Margins: Tracing the Regulatory Context of Ottawa Strip Clubs, 1974–2000

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  18 July 2014

Chris Bruckert
University of Ottawa, Department of Criminology, 25 University, Ottawa (Ontario) K1N 6N5,
Martin Dufresne
Université d'Ottawa, Département de Criminologie, 25 Université, Ottawa (Ontario) K1N 6N5,


This article employs recent writings on governmentality to make sense of the ways that labour on the margins of the market and morality are being re-configured in late modernity. By tracing the trajectory of Ottawa strip clubs from 1974 to 2000, the authors demonstrate how the industry and its workers are (re)constituted by shifting discursive contexts, and by economic, legal and social processes. During this time period the restructuring of the labour process from entertainment to service interacted with regulatory strategies including moral contamination arguments, city planning and health management. The authors illustrate how within the normative parameters established by the courts, questions of morality, responsibility and risk get played out. Within this context, and consistent with neo-liberalism, strippers are increasingly constituted as self-regulating moral subjects. On the margins however, her «freedom» is conditioned by a complex web of legal, community, as well as labour discourses and practices.


En s'inspirant de la littérature sur la gouvernementalité, cette étude cherche à saisir la re-configuration du travail en marge du marché et de la moralité. En suivant l'évolution des clubs de «strip tease» à Ottawa de 1974 jusqu'en 2000, les auteurs expliquent comment des transformations du contexte discursif et des processus économique, légal et social de la modernité avancée re-constituent l'industrie et ses travailleuses. Les transformations d'une structure du travail organisée à partir du divertissement puis du service s'accompagnent d'une succession de stratégies de régulation incluant la contamination morale, la planification urbaine et la gestion de la santé. Les auteurs montrent que des questions de moralité, de responsabilité et de risque jouent dans le cadre de paramètres normatifs posés par les tribunaux. Dans ces débats et sous l'influence du néo-libéralisme, les travailleuses sont progressivement constituées comme des sujets éthiques auto-régulés. Or dans les marges, la «liberté» que confère ce statut n'en est pas moins contrainte et organisée par les discours et pratiques du droit, de la communauté et du travail.

Research Article
Copyright © Canadian Law and Society Association 2002

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13 Criminal Code, section 46, now section 174.

14 Revised to section 163 in 1955 and further revised to section 167 in 1992.

15 Criminal Code, section 46, now section 167.

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59 This trend was not embraced uniformly and some area clubs did not install champagne rooms until 1992.

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95 Perhaps this tactic was necessitated by the structure of the labour site. Lap-dancing may be illegal but municipalities lack the jurisdictional authority and cannot force the dismantling of champagne rooms. Hence the possibility of dirty dancing remains. Since the cubicles are literally hidden from view and figuratively beyond continual surveillance the monitoring of morality must be distributed to both the self and others. The new forms of moral regulation, reinforced by a threat of state sanction, mean that within the strip club the police, doormen, managers, support staff and other dancers all act as disciplinary agents and patrol moral and legal boundaries. The stripper must provide champagne room dances in an apparently private space that is actually under careful surveillance -consequently she must continually regulate her own and manage her customer's behaviour in relation to this surveillance.

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98 This paper has attempted to tease out the trajectory of the regulatory context in which strippers labour. There are many other levels that warrant consideration. These include appreciating that the restructuring of the industry has not only facilitated new strategies of exploitation but also opened up the occupation to part-time and occasional workers. The presence of these workers not only challenges our categories and definitions of what constitutes a “stripper” but also has implications for relations to management, strategies of resistance and labour processes.