Policing the "grotesque": the regulation of pornography in Canada

Resource type
Thesis type
(Dissertation) Ph.D.
Date created
Adult pornography has gained increased prominence in the public domain. Pornographic iconography has extended into the mainstream as new technologies have contributed to its growing distribution and consumption. These social changes point to the need to examine this field of study and consider the altered place of pornography in society and the consequent socio-legal reactions to it. This dissertation examines this sexualization of culture through qualitative legal research, focusing on obscenity law in Canada. Utilizing feminist critical discourse analysis, legal provisions and cases (n=218) between 1959 and 2009 were examined. Governmentality provides a lens through which to look at the regulation of adult pornography and comprehend the impact of neo-liberal politics on society and sexual citizenship. Using the work of such scholars as Michel Foucault and Nikolas Rose, this research contemplates the notions of ‘technologies of the self’ and ‘governing at a distance’ in relation to the production and consumption of adult pornography and the ways in which it is controlled. This research shows that adult pornography has been enabled to flourish as a commodity in a neo-liberal age which is preoccupied with the self, the individual and a ‘biopolitical’ conception of power. This development is shown through a discussion of discourses around sex and obscenity that came to light out of an analysis of the Canadian legal system. Paying attention to the judicial discourse, what becomes clear is that a harm-based approach emerges in the 1980s and starts a trend within the legal realm to adopt neo-liberal language and concepts such as, individual responsibility and ‘freedom’. This shift towards a free-market mentality constructs a framework in which individuals are encouraged to self-regulate and police their own pornographic behaviour and consumption. Simultaneously, the neo-liberal mindset quickly perceives and defines risk in sexual content using this harm-based approach. The reduction in legal cases pertaining to adult pornography can be explained through this lens and changes in legal governance can be seen as playing a central role in a greater move towards neo-liberalism in Canada.
Copyright statement
Copyright is held by the author.
The author granted permission for the file to be printed and for the text to be copied and pasted.
Scholarly level
Supervisor or Senior Supervisor
Member of collection
Attachment Size
etd6586_CASears.pdf 1.56 MB