Menus Subscribe Search

Follow us


porn-keyboard

(PHOTO: DENCG/SHUTTERSTOCK)

Why Pornography Deserves Its Own Academic Journal

• May 17, 2013 • 8:00 AM

(PHOTO: DENCG/SHUTTERSTOCK)

And why the academic study of porn is nothing new.

Routledge recently announced that it will publish the first international, peer-reviewed journal dedicated to the academic study of pornography. Making its debut in spring 2014, with editors Feona Attwood and Clarissa Smith at the helm, the aptly titled Porn Studies will give critical scholarship on pornography a place at the proverbial table.

The announcement generated a great deal of media interest (“Porn studies is the new discipline for academics,” declared The Guardian), along with some palpable skepticism (“The world has officially lost its marbles,” wrote one online commenter), and a few snickers (“I want a Ph.D. in porn!”)

But for many of us working in the growing field of porn studies—myself included—we reacted to the news with a collective “Hurrah!”

THE ACADEMIC STUDY OF pornography is nothing new. (Full disclosure: I am a member of the journal’s editorial board.) Film and media scholars, sociologists, and legal experts, among others, have been writing about pornography for quite some time. The publication of Linda Williams’ book, Hardcore: Power, Pleasure and the ‘Frenzy of the Visible,’ in 1989, positioned hardcore heterosexual pornography as a film genre worthy of critical engagement and helped to establish greater legitimacy within the academy for serious scholarly investigations of the increasingly diverse, popular, and profitable world of pornography.

With titles like C’lick Me, Porn.Com, and Porno? Chic! academic publishing on pornography, on an international scale, is flourishing. There’s also been an uptick in academic conferences dedicated to the topic of pornography, including the recent Feminist Porn Conference at the University of Toronto, the first international conference of its kind. And depending on where you go to college, you might be able to take a class on the history of pornography as a popular film genre, such as the one taught since 1993 by Professor Constance Penley at the University of California-Santa Barbara.

Thus, rather than marking the emergence of a new field of study, as some media outlets have claimed, Porn Studies is a direct outgrowth of the mounting scholarly interest in the topic of pornography as a significant, yet relatively under-examined, realm of popular culture.

“It’s really important that academics do study porn and find ways to make their work more available so that public debate and policy can become more well-informed.”

“This journal signals that the study of pornography is at a critical mass in terms of the enormous growth of scholarship in the academy,” says Mireille Miller-Young, an associate professor of Feminist Studies at the University of California-Santa Barbara and a member of the journal’s editorial board. “It it also signals that we are at a moment when, because of the national fascination with the porn industry and questions about sexuality in mainstream popular culture, the time is right for a journal like Porn Studies to come onto the scene.”

Clarissa Smith, one of the journal’s editors, agrees: “We felt it was time to establish a journal because so much high-quality work on pornography is being carried out. [Porn Studies] will open up a space for researchers to develop conversations in different disciplines and push the study of porn forward even further.”

One of the recurring questions raised in a number of media discussions about the journal is whether there is any inherent value to the academic study of pornography, and, if so, what is it?

“We think there’s academic value in studying all forms of culture, and porn is no different from that point of view,” Smith says. “But porn is particularly interesting and important as an area of study for all kinds of reasons.”

Smith emphasizes three reasons in particular: pleasure, censorship, and controversy. First, porn is an important part of many people’s intimate lives, including their sexual relationships and identities, as well as their desires and fantasies. Second, pornography is often the focus for thinking about issues like censorship, regulation, freedom of speech, and ethical issues around sex and the media. And thirdly, pornography continues to be a controversial topic in the media and in other public forms of commentary, but, according to Smith, the way it is discussed often fails to engage with the evidence we have about porn.

But perhaps the biggest reason why pornography warrants critical engagement by scholars is that it’s a multi-billion dollar global industry that creates products that circulate widely and are consumed by many, yet we know surprisingly little about the conditions under which pornography is made and consumed, and how it affects people’s intimate lives and sexual identities.

“A lot of misinformation and myths get circulated [about pornography],” says Smith. “It’s really important that academics do study porn and find ways to make their work more available so that public debate and policy can become more well-informed.”

The editors of Porn Studies welcome all submissions, and hope the journal becomes a space for rigorous research on, and critical debate about, pornography.

“We can’t know what kinds of research will be forthcoming,” Smith says, “and that is truly exciting. We’re hoping for contributions from around the globe from different disciplines so that we can really begin to understand pornography in multifaceted ways.”

Lynn Comella
Lynn Comella is a women’s studies professor at the University of Nevada-Las Vegas and a member of Porn Studies’ editorial board.

More From Lynn Comella

A weekly roundup of the best of Pacific Standard and PSmag.com, delivered straight to your inbox.

Recent Posts

October 22 • 4:00 PM

The Last Thing the Women’s Movement Needs Is a Heroic Male Takeover

Is the United Nations’ #HeForShe campaign helping feminism?


October 22 • 2:00 PM

Turning Public Education Into Private Profits

Baker Mitchell is a politically connected North Carolina businessman who celebrates the power of the free market. Every year, millions of public education dollars flow through Mitchell’s chain of four non-profit charter schools to for-profit companies he controls.


October 22 • 12:00 PM

Will the End of a Tax Loophole Kill Off Irish Business and Force Google and Apple to Pay Up?

U.S. technology giants have constructed international offices in Dublin in order to take advantage of favorable tax policies that are now changing. But Ireland might have enough other draws to keep them there even when costs climb.


October 22 • 10:00 AM

Veterans in the Ivory Tower

Why there aren’t enough veterans at America’s top schools—and what some people are trying to do to change that.


October 22 • 8:00 AM

Our Language Prejudices Don’t Make No Sense

We should embrace the fact that there’s no single recipe for English. Making fun of people for replacing “ask” with “aks,” or for frequently using double negatives just makes you look like the unsophisticated one.


October 22 • 7:04 AM

My Politicians Are Better Looking Than Yours

A new study finds we judge the cover by the book—or at least the party.


October 22 • 6:00 AM

How We Form Our Routines

Whether it’s a morning cup of coffee or a glass of warm milk before bed, we all have our habitual processions. The way they become engrained, though, varies from person to person.


October 22 • 4:00 AM

For Preschoolers, Spite and Smarts Go Together

New research from Germany finds greater cognitive skills are associated with more spiteful behavior in children.


October 21 • 4:00 PM

Why the Number of Reported Sexual Offenses Is Skyrocketing at Occidental College

When you make it easier to report assault, people will come forward.


October 21 • 2:00 PM

Private Donors Are Supplying Spy Gear to Cops Across the Country Without Any Oversight

There’s little public scrutiny when private donors pay to give police controversial technology and weapons. Sometimes, companies are donors to the same foundations that purchase their products for police.


October 21 • 12:00 PM

How Clever Do You Think Your Dog Is?

Maybe as smart as a four-year-old child?


October 21 • 10:00 AM

Converting the Climate Change Non-Believers

When hard science isn’t enough, what can be done?



October 21 • 8:00 AM

Education Policy Is Stuck in the Manufacturing Age

Refining our policies and teaching social and emotional skills will help us to generate sustained prosperity.


October 21 • 7:13 AM

That Cigarette Would Make a Great Water Filter

Clean out the ashtray, add some aluminum oxide, and you’ve (almost) got yourself a low-cost way to remove arsenic from drinking water.


October 21 • 6:00 AM

Fruits and Vegetables Are About to Enter a Flavor Renaissance

Chefs are teaming up with plant breeders to revitalize bland produce with robust flavors and exotic beauty—qualities long neglected by industrial agriculture.


October 21 • 4:00 AM

She’s Cheating on Him, You Can Tell Just by Watching Them

New research suggests telltale signs of infidelity emerge even in a three- to five-minute video.


October 21 • 2:00 AM

Cheating Demographic Doom: Pittsburgh Exceptionalism and Japan’s Surprising Economic Resilience

Don’t judge a metro or a nation-state by its population numbers.


October 20 • 4:00 PM

The Bird Hat Craze That Sparked a Preservation Movement

How a fashion statement at the turn of the 19th century led to the creation of the first Audubon societies.


October 20 • 2:00 PM

The Risk of Getting Killed by the Police If You Are White, and If You Are Black

An analysis of killings by police shows outsize risk for young black males.


October 20 • 12:00 PM

Love and Hate in Israel and Palestine

Psychologists find that parties to a conflict think they’re motivated by love while their enemies are motivated by hate.


October 20 • 11:00 AM

My Dog Comes First: The Importance of Pets to Homeless Youth

Dogs and cats have both advantages and disadvantages for street-involved youth.


October 20 • 10:00 AM

Homophobia Is Not a Thing of the Past

Despite growing support for LGBT rights and recent decisions from the Supreme Court regarding the legality of same-sex marriage, the battle for acceptance has not yet been decided.


October 20 • 8:00 AM

Big Boobs Matter Most

Medical mnemonics are often scandalous and sexist, but they help the student to both remember important facts and cope with challenging new experiences.


October 20 • 6:00 AM

When Disease Becomes Political: The Likely Electoral Fallout From Ebola

Will voters blame President Obama—and punish Democrats in the upcoming mid-term elections—for a climate of fear?


Follow us


My Politicians Are Better Looking Than Yours

A new study finds we judge the cover by the book—or at least the party.

That Cigarette Would Make a Great Water Filter

Clean out the ashtray, add some aluminum oxide, and you've (almost) got yourself a low-cost way to remove arsenic from drinking water.

Love and Hate in Israel and Palestine

Psychologists find that parties to a conflict think they're motivated by love while their enemies are motivated by hate.

How to Water a Farm in Sandy Ground

Physicists investigate how to grow food more efficiently in fine-grained soil.

Unlocking Consciousness

A study of vegetative patients closes in on the nature of consciousness.

The Big One

One company, Amazon, controls 67 percent of the e-book market in the United States—down from 90 percent five years ago. September/October 2014 new-big-one-5

Copyright © 2014 by Pacific Standard and The Miller-McCune Center for Research, Media, and Public Policy. All Rights Reserved.