What about PORN STUDIES?

Patrick Catuz, Porn Studies Scholar, PhDHi! I am Patrick Catuz and in my Series „What about PORN STUDIES?“ I want to promote the rather new and vibrant academic field of Porn Studies.

On this Website I gathered some information on the academic field, produced some Video Interviews to give you first hand information from people actually doing Porn Studies, there’s book recommendations and a little porn guide and there’s also a Podcast.

I will shed some light on questions like what Porn Studies is to begin with. What comes with the term and how we could define it.  Linda Williams for instance gave name to the field but finds the term inappropriate. We also talk about what the object of study is, what about the recognition of the field and what brought the scholars to that decision to go there despite the fact that there is still stigma connected to it. We’ll discuss what might be problems you encounter when getting into Porn Studies or deciding to work in that field in the academic system. Last but not least I asked them about which Porn film they personally find interesting and why.

PORN STUDIES, Linda Williams, Clarissa Smith, Feona Attwood, John Mercer, Patrick Catuz

 

The world of Porn Studies is still a rather small family, but a close one. I thought that I will show you some of the faces of the family album. Those are:

Linda Williams, Porn Studies, InterviewLinda Williams, University of California

Clarissa Smith, Porn Studies, InterviewClarissa Smith, University of Sunderland

John Mercer, Porn Studies, InterviewJohn Mercer, Birmingham City University

Feona Attwood, Porn Studies, InterviewFeona Attwood, Middlesex University London

 

 

 

 

 

My name is Patrick Catuz and here’s my introduction:

Would you rather listen to the interviews in the Podcast? Here you’ll find it!

What is PORN STUDIES?

Porn Studies is an academic field which is concerned with pornography as film, as popcultural phenomenon, but also with discourse and contexts around the topic. It’s an interdisciplinary field and approaches pornography from various and sometimes quite diverse perspectives. Film and Gender Studies play a big role in it, obviously. After a – let’s call it: rather difficult start and little acknowledgement by the academic community to begin with, a quite vivid academic scene developed, with renowned scholars, international conferences, a lot of publications and even an academic journal with the same name. And still it happened to me once that a Dean tried to shut down my presentation at a conference – because I was showing explicit material. An academic field with its own place at conferences and still considered NSFW.

Let’s see how it all began. 

The first Steps are always the Hardest

Linda Williams: Porn Studies Pioneer

Pioneer of Porn Studies is without doubt the American Film Studies professor Linda Williams. When I met her at the Academy of Fine Arts in Vienna, she gave a speech at an Event called „Feminist Idols“. President of the University, Andrea Braidt, introduced her as the „Mother of Porn Studies“. Linda Williams countered jokingly: „The grandmother maybe“. We sat down for a chat later on.

Would you rather listen to the interviews in the Podcast? Here you’ll find it!

 

Linda Williams is a Film Studies professor at the University of Berkeley and originally worked on the topic of musicals and melodramas. One day she decided to start an article about pornography. She started with the assumption that there are certain „body genres“, genres that move us so to say. It is films that give us physical reactions, make us laugh, cry, or in the case of porn, arouse us sexually. She then tried to apply her theories from musicals to pornography. In both of these genres, there are narrative scenes, but also the „numbers“: in musicals; the songs, in porn; the sexual sequences.
What should have been one article became an entire book called „Hard Core“. Also her edition of „Porn Studies“ should be on every bookshelf of people interested in Porn Studies. Ironically, she also gave the name „Porn Studies“ to the field, but still, years later and with an established academic field and even a journal with the same name, she still objects to the term.  In her opinion it expresses too much affection and a too casual perspective on the matter, to be suitable for academic endeavors, which she explains in my interview.

CCCS Cultural Studies Birmingham Stuart Hall
The Open University (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

The roots of Porn Studies lie in Cultural Studies. It’s the roots of all the „… Studies“ that have risen in the last decades like Gender Studies, Queer Studies, Postcolonial Studies and such. It’s a critical analysis which is not bound that much to scientific canon like classic sociology for instance. They pick the theories, methods and so on, which suit the best to get a better understanding of the respective object of study.
The heart of it was the Contemporary Centre for Cultural Studies (CCCS) in Birmingham, founded in 1964 by Richart Hoggart. An important figure in developing it was Stuart Hall. It was a cocktail of sociology, culture and media theory. It broke with the widespread assumptions of active producer/sender and passive consumer/receiver. Unlike the understanding of old propaganda theories, they started thinking that people are not merely manipulated by media. In the contrary they use it, appropriate it, sometimes even oppositional.
The centre was also responsible for developing the first research on subcultures and youth culture and were successful in establishing these as acknowledged fields of study. That also means, that these movements or popcultures, like the hippies, punks or hip-hop cultures, were not seen any more as rubbish by a mislead youth. They were seen as a motor for change in society, but also realized how most of these movements got sucked up and appropriated by capitalist structures.
Originally split from classic sociology and lost in a never ending animosity, the centre was closed in 2002 despite world wide protests.

The history of Porn Studies is bound to the history of Cultural Studies. After it has become more acknowledged to study films or certain genres of music, studying porn is another academic occupation that struggles for recognition. There are already countless publications, conferences and even a scientific journal out, but there are still some obstacles.

The next section is about how Porn Studies is still caught in between being seen as a recognized academic field and a filthy occupation. 

A bad Name in good Company

There still is reluctance to integrate Porn Studies into the syllabus. Once not too long ago a president of a University tried to shut down my presentation because I was showing explicit material. Some irritation even comes from within Cultural Studies. I myself had an intense argument with a widely recognized Cultural Studies professor when I was still in my first steps in the field. He was explaining that if I was to see anything more in pornography than blunt entertainment, then I would be (quote!) falling into the marketing traps of a billion dollar industry. And this was a professor who had to defend his own studies of Hip Hop Culture against likewise accusations.

But that’s not the whole picture.

Porn Studies Magazin

Today an occupation in the field of pornography is more widely recognized, for instance there has been a Porn Studies section at the Filmforum Udine/Gorizia for years now. And there’s an  Academic Journal even named Porn Studies founded by Feona Attwood and Clarissa Smith, whose interviews you can also watch in this series.

Let me get you some more to follow up to in the next section.