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"Sex, Drugs & Control. The Rehierarchization of Sex Work in Entrepreneurial Cities"


In 2002, prostitution gained (limited) recognition as labour in Germany through a new national prostitution law. At the local level however spatial confinement in toleration zones and spatialized police laws remain possible options. Urban policy responses to increased interurban competition in the course of what is commonly called ‘globalization’ create equally contradictory pressures on the sex industry. The urban restructuring literature reveals two trends: 1. Enhanced city marketing to attract business activity, tourists and tax paying residents and 2. more exclusionary forms of policing the urban poor. With regard to sex work, research so far has focused on the latter aspect. While it is thus widely understood that ‘entrepreneurial’ urban policies often strive to reduce the visibility of 'deviant' behavior such as street sex work, little attention has been devoted to selective tolerance and marketing of prostitution as soft location factor. The dissertation project captures the parallelism of both processes, exploring the different treatment of sex work according to the form of prostitution and the neighborhood in which it takes place. Based on the assumption that new forms of exclusion are produced it analyzes how ‘sex work regimes’—defined as the sum of norms, laws and social struggles concerning prostitution—at the neighborhood level have changed in the course of urban restructuring.
Research Question

Which factors determine the constitution of different sex work regimes at the neighbourhood level? How do these regimes operate? Which new forms of exclusion are produced?
Research Methods

Four case studies—the two best known red light districts of two major German cities—were chosen to represent the different forms of prostitution and neighbourhood types: in each city 1. a tourist night life center with higher class prostitution and 2. a residential area with lower class sex work. The case studies are based on semi-structured interviews with key policy actors from fields such as police, urban planning, social work, local politics, administration, residents’ anti-prostitution initiatives and business associations. Additional sources are interviews with sex workers and analysis of policy documents and media coverage.
Preliminary Results
Urban scale

Spatially selective approaches reinforce existing hierarchies in sex work.
Within the logic of entrepreneurial urban politics higher class prostitution is framed as ‘urban chic’ and lower class prostitution as ‘barrier to development'. This distinction is based on the workers’ appearance and not their working conditions. It results in an unintended preference of pimp organized prostitution instead of independent sex work by urban growth promoters.

Higher class prostitution is tolerated or even featured in city marketing in limited and ‘cleaned’ form as ‘façade’. Especially drug-related lower class prostitution faces harsher controls. Both tendencies are more pronounced where business actors and residential gentrification are strong (due to a booming urban economy).
Neighbourhood level

Existing hierarchies in sex work are reinforced since external pressure (e.g. displacement) is internally redistributed to the most disadvantaged groups within the sex industry.

Police control targets the legally most vulnerable groups (e.g. migrants without papers or drug consumers).

Spatial displacement is less group selective. Internal arrangements within the sex industry, however, account for a spatial organization that makes the least powerful groups bear the burden of spatial restrictions.
Policing of non-criminal behaviour in public space addresses group identities. This potentially separates sex workers—who due to stigmatization show little solidarity—on the identity level.

Sex work regimes shift towards ‘quieter’, more dialogue based control—which, however, is no less exclusionary.
Control regimes differ according to neighbourhood type, form of prostitution and city politics. A common feature in all cases, however, is a tendency towards ’communicative’ control: Police ‘prevention’ or ’reconnaissance’ officers obtain information and control behaviour through relationships based on trust with the controlled as well as with social workers.

In marginalized residential neighbourhoods with drug-related street prostitution programs of urban ‘social integration’ create new governance structures. These programs with a middle class bias constitute a communication structure used for policing public space.

Lebenslauf / Curriculum Vitae

Summer term 2007
Visiting Fellow, Sociology Department (Columbia University)
Doctoral Student in Political Science (Freie Universität Berlin)
Advisors: Prof. Dr. Margit Mayer & Prof. Dr. Susanne Heeg
DFG Fellow, PhD Program Berlin—New York
Diploma in Urban & Regional Planning (Technische Universität Berlin)
Research Assistant, Social Research & Planning Company Argus GmbH (Berlin)
2000 - 2001
ERASMUS Student, Architecture Department (Universidad Politécnica de Madrid)
1999 - 2000
Tutor, Gender Planning Department (Technische Universität Berlin)

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