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Sex/Work in Berlin – Migration, commercialized sexuality and (Eastern) European Bodies in Berlin

Kurfürstenstraße in Berlin

Kurfürstenstraße in Berlin
Image Credit: Ursula Probst

Ursula Probst

Migration, commercialized sexuality and (Eastern) European Bodies in Berlin

Sex work and/or prostitution often prove to be a controversial issue and debates around it shed light on conflict-ridden negotiations of sexualities and moralities. In the last few year, this topic has gained renewed public and political attention in Germany which centered around the question of connections between sex work and human trafficking. Prominently featuring the figure of the “Eastern European prostitute” as the stereotypical victim of exploitation and abuse, these discourses also relate to broader debates about migration and European belongings in Germany.

 Located at the intersection of questions about inner-European migration, (labor) rights and exploitation, and sexualities this project, based on 14 months of ethnographic fieldwork, investigates the realities and everyday (work) lives of people from Eastern European countries who are engaged in sex work in Berlin. The diverse experiences and perspectives of sex-working migrants from Eastern Europe highlighted stark contradictions between an idea of Europe and specifically the European Union ensuring equal rights to all its citizens and an in everyday practices racialized and sexualized understanding of Europe which not only defines itself in opposition to non-European “Others”, but also produces inner-European hierarchies based on regional, social or (presumed) ethnic belongings.

 Following theoretical debates about embodied belongings and the embodiment of “Europe” the project focusses on how embodiment and bodily practices play a role in the negotiations of (Eastern) European belongings in Berlin. Especially in the experiences of people from Eastern Europe who are engaged in sex work in the German capital, the racialized and sexualized dimensions of “(Eastern) European” bodies and belongings become apparent which question the idea of a common European identity, so called “Europeanization” processes as well as notions of equal rights to mobility and freedom.

From 2017 to 2020 this project was funded by the Elsa-Neumann-Scholarship of the state of Berlin.

Supervisor: Prof. Dr. Hansjörg Dilger
Second Supervisor: Prof. Dr. Thomas Stodulka


Berlin Southern Theory Lecture