Get access

Will the Real Dominatrix Please Stand Up: Artistic Purity and Professionalism in the S&M Dungeon1


  • 1

     The author thanks Peter Bearman, Paul DiMaggio, and Priscilla Ferguson for feedback on earlier drafts. All errors are the author’s own.


Professional dominatrices (pro-dommes) are a group that has received little sociological attention. I use Pierre Bourdieu’s claims about art as a tool for illuminating important tensions within this corner of social life, where I find evidence of an embattled purity regime that has implications beyond the walls of the dominatrix’s “dungeon.” In particular, I argue that pro-dommes’ discourse resonates with Bourdieu’s description of the “anti-‘economic’ economy of pure art,” employed by relatively autonomous avant-garde artists who disavow economic criteria for success as a means to legitimate themselves and symbolically distance themselves from the commercial end of the art world. Using this theory as a structural analogy for pro-domme/client relationships sheds light on claims to professionalism and the microdynamics of control within service-industry interactions more generally.