Blue Politics: Pornography and the Law in the Age of Feminism

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In 1985 the Special Committee on Pornography and Prostitution, the Fraser Committee, recommended the criminalization of violent and degrading sexually explicit material on the ground that it harmed women. On two occasions (in 1986 with Bill C-114 and in 1987 with Bill C-54) the Mulroney government proposed a more restrictive approach to the regulation of pornography. Despite the support of various feminist and religious/family-oriented organizations, the government's attempts at law reform failed. Obscenity provisions were neither repealed nor replaced by a law criminalizing pornography. Blue Politics looks at the social and political mechanisms that initiated, shaped, and finally defeated the controversial legal proposals of the Conservative government in the 1980s.

Dany Lacombe documents the emergence of a feminist definition of pornography, analyses the impact this definition had on the debate between conservative and civil libertarian organizations, and identifies the emergence of groups who strongly resisted the attempt to reform the law: feminists against censorship and sex radicals. Finally, she examines the way in which institutional practices are shaped by and yet shape the power relations between groups. The emphasis is on the way such power relations are embodied in the policy-making process.

Drawing on Michel Foucault's concept of 'power/knowledge,' Lacombe reveals how the process to criminalize pornography inaugurated a controversial politics that produced collective identities and transformed power relations. She shows law reform as a strategy that both constrains and enables action.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780802028549
  • Publisher: University of Toronto Press
  • Publication date: 5/28/1994
  • Pages: 490

Meet the Author

Dany Lacombe is Professor of Sociology at Simon Fraser University
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Table of Contents

Ch. 1 Introduction 3
Law reform and 'the order of things' 9
A methodological note 11
Pt. 1 Pornography as an Object of Knowledge 17
Ch. 2 The Emergence of a Feminist Position on Pornography 19
The religious and moral rationales for the prohibition of obscenity in the 1960s 21
The liberal rationale for the repeal of obscenity legislation in the 1960s 23
The feminist anti-pornography movement 26
The language of causality and the language of rights: The mobilization of scientific and legal discourses 29
The politics of science 33
The politics of interpretation 38
The politics of sexuality 42
Ch. 3 Compliance with and Resistance to the Feminist Claim of Harm 45
The conservative position on pornography in the 1980s 45
The mobilization of science: Facts versus morality 48
The mobilization of law to restore a conservative common good 52
The civil libertarian position in the 1980s 53
The position of feminists against censorship 56
The position of sex radicals and sex workers 63
Pt. 2 Institutional Practices 73
Ch. 4 The Special Committee on Pornography and Prostitution 75
The creation of the Fraser Committee 75
The report of the Fraser Committee 81
The composition of the Fraser Committee 83
Criminal law and the protection of fundamental values 86
Ambiguous logic: A feminist rationale combined with conventional ideas about criminalization 89
The marginalization of alternative discourses 92
The reliance on institutional expertise and practices 93
Ch. 5 Bill C-114: The First Attempt at Pornography Law Reform 99
The impact of a change in government 99
Pressure from pro-censorship forces 102
The policy-making process in the Department of Justice 104
The consultative process in the Tory caucus 109
The centrality of child sexual abuse 112
Public reaction and the death of Bill C-114 114
Ch. 6 Bill C-54: The Impossible Compromise 117
Dissenting reactions from artists, civil libertarians, and the media 118
Mixed reactions from feminists 120
The revolt of the librarians 123
The retreat of the conservatives 129
The death of Bill C-54: Mixed results 132
Five years later: The Butler decision 133
Ch. 7 The Enabling Quality of Law Reform 137
Law reform and science 139
Law reform and the politics of rights 143
Epilogue: Postmodern Art in the Age of Obscenity 155
Appendix: List of Sources 163
Notes 167
Bibliography 193
Index 221
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