Review Essay: Qualitative Research on Prostitution in the Early '80s' Red-light Districts of Vienna

Ralf Ottermann


This review essay is about the merits and shortcomings of Roland GIRTLER's qualitative field research on prostitution in the early '80s' red-light districts of Vienna. GIRTLER is particularly interested in sub-cultural norms, values, ideas and symbols as well as (deviant) behavior patterns of prostitutes, pimps and clients. He is also interested in what makes people become prostitutes, pimps or clients and in the problems they have such as being confronted with extraordinary social control (moralization, stigmatization, registration, criminalization). GIRTLER's main methods of field research are participant observation and unconstrained conversations (GIRTLER's "ero-epic dialogues") with prostitutes and pimps. To this end, initial contacts with pimps and prostitutes are established by a criminal acquaintance of GIRTLER, leading to a "snowballing" of contacts. GIRTLER's way of sampling and his methods of analyses are, however, somewhat hazy and vague. In contrast to prostitutes and pimps, clients are neither interviewed by GIRTLER nor informed of being observed by him for the purpose of research. Through this special treatment of the clients, GIRTLER fails to meet even his own methodological and ethical demands. Moreover, his empirical grounded typologies and theory of prostitution are, in part, not verifiable and occasionally lack plausibility. Some of GIRTLER's practices do not, therefore, meet today's state-of-the-art standards for qualitative research.
URN: urn:nbn:de:0114-fqs0502196


free field research; participant observation; ero-epic conversation/free interview; marginal/subculture; prostitutes/pimps/clients; types; empirical grounded theory


Copyright (c) 2005 Ralf Ottermann

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