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Please use this identifier to cite or link to this item: http://hdl.handle.net/1807/26464

Title: Sadomasochism Once Removed: S/m in the Socio-legal Imaginary
Authors: Khan, Ummni
Advisor: Cossman, Brenda
Department: Law
Keywords: Law
Issue Date: 8-Mar-2011
Abstract: This dissertation considers sadomasochism (s/m) as an object of knowledge that incites multiple and interpenetrative discourses. I deconstruct psychiatric, feminist, and cinematic articulations of s/m, and consider the ways in which these narratives interact with each other and influence the legal regulation of s/m. My analysis is framed by Foucault’s account in the History of Sexuality, which helps to bring s/m into focus as a discursive product that emerges out of a “knowledge-power-pleasure” regime. Viewed in this light, I argue that when the scientific, feminist, cinematic and legal actors flex their power in producing truth-claims about s/m, this does not shut down pleasure, but proliferates it. To further interrogate the discursive underpinnings that uphold these truth-claims, I draw upon theories of abjection, disgust and expulsion. Part I traces the construction of s/m within the scientific realm, from the early pioneers in sexology, to the recent academic literature that challenges the pathologization of s/m in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. Part II surveys the “sex wars” in the eighties and nineties, where the issue of s/m (along with other sex-related issues) violently ruptured feminist communities. In Part III, I analyze the cinematic representation of s/m in popular culture, arguing that while the prevailing tone is pejorative, the narratives nonetheless betray a desire for s/m sexuality and its imagined forbidden pleasures. Part IV reviews the legal treatment of s/m pornography in Canada, which until recently has invariably found s/m imagery to be violent, degrading and/or dehumanizing, conspicuously reflecting the anti-s/m feminist perspective. Part V examines the legal treatment of s/m practice in Canada, in which the pathologizing gaze of psychiatry gets replicated. I argue that the law, rather than being a haven of rationality and coherence in its consideration of s/m, has reflected certain essentialist notions of sexuality produced in the non-legal cultural arena. In conclusion, I posit that the reification of s/m in the socio-legal imaginary allows for multiple entries of epistemic resistance. Attempts to foreclose s/m from the realm of acceptable sexuality have ironically offered sadomasochists frameworks for asserting their own subjectivity and membership in the community.
URI: http://hdl.handle.net/1807/26464
Appears in Collections:Doctoral

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