This study is a comprehensive investigation of FetLife, a BDSM (bondage and discipline, domination and submission, sadism and masochism) social networking website. Taking a discursive analytical approach that combines rhetorical-textual analysis with Stuart Hall’s encoding/decoding model, I look at a site-based scandal to investigate how FetLife is positioned as a safe and private community in order to achieve commercial benefits. Subsequently, I analyse user-generated content on the site, demonstrating that sexual self-representation on FetLife follows the logic of pornography. The adherence to this logic, alongside the site’s commercial realities, strongly contradict its claims to be an ‘alternative’ community space, leading me to conclude that online sexuo-social interactions are a space of conflict and contradiction wherein the nature of privacy and publicness are being radically altered by commercially driven developers, the cultural dominance of pornography and emerging cultures of online representation.
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Thesis advisor: Lacombe, Dany
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