Topic: Pornographies 2018 - Critical Positions
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kathyrn harrison

Pornography is no longer considered to be a single, homogenous thing. Nor are debates about pornography limited to the reductive anti-porn versus anti-censorship controversies of the mid-twentieth century. Whether we like it or not, pornography today is out in the open, from the ubiquity of porn produced and consumed via the Internet to the mainstreaming of porn aesthetics and practices into mass media and everyday life. Pornography is therefore of central concern to social scientific, arts and humanities research that focuses on sexual freedoms and oppressions, empowerment, gender, feminism and postfeminism, queer identities, normative and non-normative bodies, politics and more. This book conceives of pornographies in the plural and its twelve chapters engage directly with porn across a range of media and from a variety of critical perspectives. From the conceptual importance of pornography in the feminist sex wars to porn produced for female and/or queer sexual pleasure,ya know like this whole gay board, via examinations of vaginal performance artists, fetish clinics, sexperts, amputee porn, barebacking, tattoos and Japanese erotica, this book illuminates the many ways in which pornographies may be understood in scholarship today.


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WHat a boring arsed bunch of bullshit.


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Agent Provocateur


tl;dr


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PREFACE

Pornographies: Critical Positions – the eleventh volume in the
Issues in the Social Sciences (ISS) series – constitutes an important
opportunity to explore an area that, despite being well
established territory for Social Sciences researchers, is still
considered risky business for undergraduate teaching. The
chapters in the volume investigate both debates about
pornography and pornographic media texts themselves,
providing readers with insightful context for, and well-chosen
examples of, the sexually explicit and the critical tools with
which to make sense of it. The collection will thus be of great
interest and utility to readers encountering the study of
pornography for the first time, and to lecturers and researchers
committed to establishing porn studies as a vital area of inquiry
for scholars at all levels.
This volume is my final contribution to ISS as Series Editor,
having left the University of Chester after nearly ten years in
autumn 2017 for a new position at Leeds Beckett University.
During my tenure as Series Editor, I relied on departmental
colleagues to act as editors and, in some cases, contributors to
the ISS volumes. I would like to take this opportunity to express
my particular and heartfelt thanks to former colleagues in the
Department of Social and Political Science at the University of
Chester for their assistance: Karen Corteen, Jonathon Louth,
Ross McGarry, Sharon Morley, Cassie Ogden, Alessandro
Pratesi, Ben Revi, Paul Taylor, Steve Wakeman and Paul Wagg,
all of whom undertook editing duties or wrote individual
chapters between 2013 and 2018, and, together, produced four
excellent, well received volumes: Corporeality: The Body and
Society (2013); Work and Society: Spaces, Places and Identities
(2014); Edges of Identity: The Production of Neoliberal Subjectivities
(2017); and Pornographies: Critical Positions (2018). I would al


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INTRODUCTION

Katherine Harrison and Cassandra A. Ogden
Pornography has long been at the centre of passionate debates
surrounding the limits of sexual freedom, as well as at the heart
of moral panics concerning its potential to corrupt individuals
and society. For every argument that highlights the degrading,
oppressive or harmful effects of pornography (particularly for
women, though there is currently increasing public concern
about online porn addiction for men and the effects of
pornography on children and young people) (Dworkin, 1981;
Dines, 2011), there is another that contends that pornography is
merely a representation of sex with which people can choose
freely whether or not to engage, and which may even provide
improvements in sexual rights, intimate relationships or for
individual health (see, for example, Arrowsmith, 2011; Men’s
Health, 2012; Telegraph Men, 2015). Likewise, while many
observers understand pornography to be an intrinsically
patriarchal medium, produced by a voracious sex industry that
exploits women’s bodies routinely for heterosexual male
gratification and profit (Boyle, 2010), there are supplementary
arguments which insist that pornography does not necessarily
always reproduce this conventional gender/power dynamic
and can instead function as a radical site where heterosexual
female and minority sexual and gender identities, non
normative
bodies and queer sexual practices can be played out,
with the perfomers’ agency, for the pleasure of audiences that
are otherwise ignored by or subsumed within mainstream,
heteronormative discursive constructions of sex (see McNair,
2002; McNair, 2012; Taormino, Parreñas Shimizu, Penley, &
Miller-Young, 2013; Mowlabocus, 2016). To complicate the
picture further, with the exception of pornography that
evidences criminal acts (such as child sex abuse or ‘revenge


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porn’), porn today is understood less as something prurient that

happens out of sight in the shadows and more as a highly
visible aspect of mainstream contemporary social life, with
pornographic imagery and tropes permeating the everyday as
they migrate from specifically designated adult entertainment
to commonplace visual culture and routine intimate practices
that constitute embodied gender norms and relations (McNair,
2002; Levy, 2005; Paasonen, Nikunen, & Saarenmaa, 2007;
Attwood, 2009; Boyle, 2010). Pornography is, therefore, a site of
perpetual, sometimes vehement, debate and is a subject ripe for
academic inquiry. It is for this reason that Pornographies: Critical
Positions draws together a range of perspectives on porn,
including those of established porn scholars and new voices, to
provide a snap-shot of current critical work in porn studies.
This volume raises questions and provides insights into both
what porn does and what we, as scholars, can do productively
with porn.
As outlined above, debates about pornography are
predicated on differing conceptualisations of what porn is –
smut versus representation, oppression versus empowerment,
harm versus pleasure, furtive private activity versus public
cultural norm – and where it is located – specialist subscription
websites versus what McNair (2002) has described as an
everyday, mainstream “pornosphere” (p. 38). As such, a
singular definition of porn risks reproducing a misleading and
reductive “pornonormativity” (Attwood, 2010a, p. 237) that
fails to account for the expansive, nuanced reality of
pornography and porn cultures today. Instead of attempting to
define pornography, then, this volume reflects and recognises
the variety of types of pornography in circulation and the
manifold interpretations of these by referring to pornographies
in the plural: a diverse, polysemic assemblage of pornographic
texts and sites that are produced in different material and


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cultural contexts with distinctive authorial intentions and

variable effects, and consumed by heterogeneous audiences
within particular interpretive frameworks and with mixed
subjective responses. The study of pornographies understood
thus provides valuable opportunities for critical engagement to
illuminate what they tell us about a range of important areas of
concern within the parameters of the Social Sciences, Arts and
Humanities: sex, sexualities, gender, bodies, identities, cultures,
intimate relationships, propriety, health, representations,
normativity,
queerness,
discrimination,
agency,
memory,
consumption practices and more.
This book aims to introduce readers to the academic study
of, and debates about and within, pornographies in a number
of their most interesting and varied instantiations. The volume
cannot claim to be a comprehensive examination of
pornography because – just as other collections of academic
work on the same subject before it (e.g. Church Gibson, 2004;
Williams, 2004; Paasonen et al., 2007; Attwood, 2010b; Boyle,
2010) – such an aspiration is inevitably thwarted by the sheer
variety and scope and the fast changing nature of the
pornographies that exist. The chapters contained here each
engage with an interesting debate about, or debate posed by,
pornography, and the volume includes analyses of many
specific examples of pornography, predominantly in visual
form but also textual discourses that frame and construct our
understandings of pornography. The volume takes in
mainstream heteronormative and queer porns (the ‘gay for pay’
scene and amputee porn are objects of analysis, for example),
niche fetish cultures (such as ‘barebacking’, or condomless sex,
and medical pornography), video porn, online porn, explicit art
(including the work of performance artist Casey Jenkins and
experimental documentary maker Vincent Chevalier), and the
broader “pornification” of mass culture in sites such as cooker


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shows and advice given to women via online discussion boards

by ‘sexpert’ agony aunts (Paasonen et al., 2007, p. 1). It is
intended that this diversity both reflects (to the extent that it is
possible) a range of extant pornographies which readers may
not have hitherto encountered, and furnishes readers with
carefully explicated knowledge of the significances of these
cultural products. In so doing, the volume follows the advice of
Henry Jenkins (2004) who writes that “it is irresponsible to
discuss pornography in the abstract, in the absence of concrete
images. Without specifics, the debate becomes too easy” (p. 3).
In other words, an academic book about porn that does not
include detailed descriptions of the material under scrutiny
(sometimes in the form of visual images), as well as intelligent
analysis, risks divesting the arguments of specific meaning and,
at worse, prompting readers to “imagine what they want to see”
and thus reinforcing, rather than challenging or extending, pre
existing
assumptions (Jenkins, 2004, p. 3).
For readers new to porn studies, it is useful to provide a
very brief overview of the main trends in scholarship in this
area over the last twenty or so years. There is not space in this
Introduction to rehearse the entire history of intellectual
responses to pornographies, which began in earnest during the
mid-twentieth century as second-wave feminist activists and
scholars identified the porn industry as a powerful node in the
apparatus of the patriarchal oppression of women (see, for
example, Dworkin, 1981; MacKinnon, 1993). The academic
debate about pornography in the contemporary period is as
enduring as it is multifaceted and scholarly considerations of
porn today are correspondingly reflective of a variety of foci
and positions, some of which remain deeply polarised. For
example, following in the radical tradition of second-wave
feminist stances towards pornography in the twentieth century,
the US American feminist writer Gail Dines (2011) argues



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