Knowledge Politics in the Contemporary Regulation of Prostitution in Germany

This project, which is oriented toward the sociology of knowledge and discourse analysis, examines the discursive construction of prostitution and its regulation in Germany since the mid-1980s.


Gesetz Frau Waage klein
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Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft

Project overview 


Project start 



Project end 



Project sponsor 

DFG (Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft)


Project responsibility on site 


Participating scientists of the University of Augsburg

Lina Brink

Marlen S. Löffler

Christine Preiser (former)


Research assistents:


Pietra Martins

Katharina Gsänger (former)
Prisca Ludwig (former)

Background and issues

Prostitution is the exchange of sexual services for money or other goods. The Prostitution Act, which came into force on 01.01.2002, defined it as no longer immoral. The ProstitutiertenSchutzGesetz, which has been in force since 01.07.2017, means a far-reaching new/regulation of prostitution in Germany. Among other things, it includes the obligation to obtain a permit for operators, the obligation to register and provide health counseling for sex workers and the condom obligation for customers. We understand the regulation of prostitution and the accompanying debates in various arenas as an expression and part of social de/problematization processes and a struggle for interpretations and interpretive sovereignty. The research project receives its specific focus by concentrating on prostitution as a (multi-level) arena of complex knowledge relations and knowledge politics, in which the factuality of situations is produced, provided with ethical-moral evaluations and transferred into institutional-organizational processing. This can be translated into the following questions:


  • How is the factual situation 'need for regulation of prostitution' produced in political-administrative and public discussions?
  • What knowledge is used in the de/problematization of prostitution to indicate the existence of problems, to justify the need for action and to justify intervention strategies?
  • Which ethical-moral patterns of order and meaning are used in the evaluation of 'factual knowledge' and how are they linked to the different forms of knowledge?


Sociological discourse analysis (WDA) of knowledge is a suitable research program for addressing the questions. Documents such as plenary minutes, draft laws, small/big questions, newspaper articles, television formats, campaigns and the like, as well as interviews with experts from administration, police and civil society, among others, serve as the data basis. These take place on three levels:


  • Federal level: the discourses on prostitution and its regulation since the mid-1980s are reviewed.
  • State level: In four selected federal states with different problem situations (e.g. proximity to borders) and different regimes (e.g. liberal vs. conservative), current regulation-related discussions are analyzed.
  • Municipal level: For each selected federal state, one municipality is taken as an example of a particular 'hot spot' or 'best practice' and its modes of regulation are analyzed.

In this way, the relationship between different levels of discourse will be examined and it will be determined whether and which forms of knowledge are used in the interpretation and treatment of problems.



"I have already (...) taken a very emotional stand on the issue" Emotions and morality in the legislative process for the new/regulation of prostitution in Germany. Joint conference of the DGS sections Social Problems and Social Control and Sociology of Knowledge "Emotions and Morality in Problematization Discourses", Kassel, June 27-28, 2019.


The Other Woman. Othering processes in the course of the re/regulation of prostitution in Germany. Joint conference of the DGS sections Sociology of the Body and Sport and Sociology of Knowledge "The Bodies of Others (Body Knowledge III)," Augsburg, May 24-25, 2019.


"I don't care if it's 300,000 or 90 or 70 percent" - Knowing how to regulate prostitution. Conference of the AK Diskursanalyse of the DGS-Sektion Wissenssoziologie "Die Diskursive Konstruktion von Wirklichkeit IV. Tagung zu interdisziplinären Perspektiven einer wissenssoziologischen Diskursforschung", Augsburg, 21.03. - 22.03.2019.


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