Most people who come to one of the numerous high class Sauna-Clubs in Germany are interested in the high-end bar, the upscale spa, and—oh yeah—the legalized prostitution. They’re also mostly men.
Anthropologist Annegret D. Staiger is different. She has spent time at these Sauna-Clubs because she is curious about the intricate social interactions that happen between clients, call girls and club management in Germany’s “megabrothels.”
As Associate Professor of Anthropology at Clarkson, Staiger specializes in studying complex contemporary environments. Her latest research project may seem unorthodox, but it allows Staiger to examine masculinity and identity, gift exchange, immigration and the economics of sex. She’s also able to compare German and American attitudes about sex.
“I’ve always been curious about sexuality and gender. Prostitution is fascinating because it’s often perceived as being so radically different from some other forms of sexual relationships, when in fact it’s not. I’m really interested in economic transactions associated with sex, including business models of prostitution,” she says.
Staiger brings a unique perspective as she interviews sex industry workers and clients in her home country, following the legalization of prostitution in Germany in 2002.
“When I observe men in these environments, I get such a new view on them. It’s a ‘remasculization’ place. The men will tell you they just want to have sex, no strings attached, but they also want to feel desired. And they seek enduring and emotionally gratifying friendships. That’s part of the attraction,” Staiger says. “I’ve found that this industry is much more complex and complicated than people think it is.”
Complexity is also what Staiger found in the last environment she immersed herself in: an urban school district in Los Angeles. She spent months there studying race and K-12 education.
“L.A. is such a wonderful place because you have such a potpourri of different ethnicities and racial groups. I started studying education through the backdoor, because I was ignorant about how urban American schools work and I wanted to find out,” she said.
“In a nutshell, it was essentially a small private school program for mostly white kids within a huge 90 percent ‘minority’ or non-white, inner-city school,” she says. “People assume that desegregation is a thing of the past. It isn’t in some places, though. When you realize this is what the progress of race relations in education is, your expectation for other places in society is not very high.”
At Clarkson’s School of Arts and Sciences, Staiger takes pride in challenging her students’ expectations. Her courses include “Cities and Social Justice,” “Racial Inequality in the US,” and “Sex and Commerce”.
“I love my job, because it gives me the opportunity to immerse myself in strange settings with the freedom to figure out how things work,” she says. “It has become second nature, whether I travel or I’m at home.”
So what does the anthropologist think of her educational environment at Clarkson?
“We have a wide variety of talented students, including different backgrounds and different disciplines, with very different strengths,” she says. “The atmosphere with my colleagues is great, because I get to talk about literature, political science and history every day too.”
The longtime city-dweller especially loves the natural environment here in Potsdam.
“You know what I like? When I’m in bed at night, it’s quiet. When the sky is dark, you can see the stars. And sometimes you can hear the coydogs howling,” she says. “The people are so friendly, too.”