London — When Ashley Mears asked Thibault, a 45-year-old Dominican who made his living as a New York nightclub promoter, whether she could observe him at work, he texted back: “I’d love to shake it with a professor.”

So shake it Prof Mears did, with Thibault and Dre and other brokers who earn a living by cajoling aspiring models to accompany them to nightclubs, look pretty and dance. From New York to Miami and the Riviera, she conducted an ethnographic study of clubs at which six-litre bottles of Cristal champagne are brought to tables at $40,000 each...

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