Human Sexuality and Anthropology Interest Group
Invited - Oral Presentation Session
This paper explores the relationship between a brothel owner and his employees and the use of “gifts” as means to extort, manipulate, and intimidate employees. Ethnographies of labor relations in prostitution are usually limited to sex workers and brothel owners or other third parties. However, brothels also formal employment relationships, from custodians to bartenders and security personnel to madams and managers. Yet these employees are rarely the subject of anthropological inquiry. What type of labor relationships do they have? To what extent do they differ from labor relations of similar jobs in other industries? I examine the relationships between owner and employee in a legal mega-brothel in Germany. Noticeable in this context was fierce loyalty to the boss, who for many employees, had become a personal savior, to whom they felt deep gratitude. Their gratitude was further instrumentalized through deliberate rituals of the club, that staged and underscored the close and intimate relationships the owner maintained to his employees. While many of these employees were deeply morally indebted to the owner, who had many of them helped out in particularly dire situations, it was also apparent that this loyalty prevented them from engaging in labor alliances with other workers. This paper explores to what extent gift exchanges are a critical element of employment in the context of intimate labor.