FEMINIST PHILOSOPHY AND…
16-18th of September 2013, Berlin
Anne W. Eaton (University of Illinois at Chicago)
Rae Langton (MIT)
Hans Maes (University of Kent)
Ishani Maitra (University of Michigan)
Mary Kate McGowan (Wellesley College)
Evangelia (Lina) Papadaki (University of Crete)
The heir of Playboy, Cooper Hefner, stated in a recent newspaper
article that Playboy isn’t pornography – rather, Playboy is art and it
empowers women (The Independent, Jan 6th 2013). This claim is in stark
contrast with most feminist views: many feminists do not consider
Playboy to be empowering and they take pornography to be a kind of harm.
Rae Langton forcefully and famously argued for such feminist claims in
her article “Speech Acts and Unspeakable Acts” (originally published in
1993). In her paper, Langton defends the philosophical cogency of
Catherine MacKinnon’s view that pornography not only causes the
subordination and silencing of women, but it also constitutes women’s
subordination and silencing. Langton’s defence appeals to J. L. Austin’s
speech act theory. She argues that pornographic speech illocutionarily
subordinates women and silences their speech. It does the former in
ranking women as inferior, legitimating discrimination against them, and
depriving women of important rights to do with free speech. This last
point connects to illocutionary silencing. Pornographic speech does not
prevent women from making utterances. Rather, the thought is,
pornographic speech may create communicative conditions that result in
illocutionary disablement of women’s speech in specific contexts.
Particularly this may be so with respect to women’s refusals of unwanted
sex: if pornographic speech prevents the locution ‘No!’ from being seen
to be a refusal in a sexual context, due to which sex is forced on the
speaker, she has not successfully performed the illocutionary speech act
of refusing the unwanted sex. In this case, there may be a free speech
argument against pornography.
Since the publication of Langton’s seminal article, a rich
philosophical literature on pornography has emerged. A number of
philosophers from different backgrounds have either critiqued or
defended Langton’s position (e.g. Ronald Dworkin, Leslie Green, Jennifer
Saul, Judith Butler, Caroline West, Nellie Wieland, and many others).
Despite the rich literature on the topic, precious little agreement
still exists on some key questions: How do or should we define
‘pornography’? Does pornography in fact subordinate and silence women?
What should legally be done about pornography, if anything at all?
The first goal of this conference is to take stock of extant debates
and discussions. We wish to clarify the conceptual and political
terrains of feminist discussions concerning pornography. In particular,
we wish to investigate how do or should feminist philosophers define
‘pornography’ and related terms (e.g. harm, silencing, objectification).
Further, what are the political commitments of those working on the
topic, and what might be a helpful feminist political strategy with
respect to the reality of pornography. Despite the wealth of literature
on pornography over the past couple of decades, these questions are
still in need of being addressed.
The second goal of this conference is to explore new issues and
themes in the feminist philosophical debates that have emerged more
recently. By doing so, we wish to create new lines of inquiry on themes
that (to date) have received surprisingly little attention from feminist
philosophers. We also aim to investigate how these new issues intersect
with older, more established, debates. Specifically, we wish to examine
three themes: HARM – EPISTEMOLOGY – AESTHETICS. We will investigate the
themes themselves, how they intersect with one another, and how do or
can these issues and their intersections help answer our first set of
questions about feminist conceptual and political commitments. In more
detail, we will be asking:
HARM – Are the existing conceptions of harm, illocutionary
subordination and silencing plausible and/or helpful? Do they help us in
settling questions about the legal treatment of pornography, or should
we base our discussions in the legal domain on some other notions? Do
feminist philosophers even have to settle the issue of pornography’s
harmfulness once and for all?
EPISTEMOLOGY – What kinds of knowledge claims does pornography
involve, if any? Does it involve maker’s knowledge, as Langton has
recently argued (in her Sexual Solipsism, OUP 2009)? If so, is the
maker’s knowledge that pornography involves harmful, as Langton claims?
What would its harmfulness consist in?
AESTHETICS – What kind of representation does pornography involve? Is
the representation (of women, sexuality, etc) in pornography harmful
and if so, in what sense? How do the elements of reality and fantasy in
pornography relate to one another? And how do these elements intersect
with the previous two themes (harm and knowledge)? Can pornography be
considered art (as Hefner Jn. claims)? If so, what consequences does
this have for the view that pornography harms women?
We invite submissions on these themes (broadly conceived). The focus
of the event will be on analytic feminist investigations of pornography;
however, we also welcome paper submissions from other philosophical
perspectives. Please email FULL PAPERS suitable for anonymous review of
no more than 3,500 words by 15th APRIL 2013 to firstname.lastname@example.org with
the subject title ‘CONFERENCE SUBMISSION’. (PDF submissions are
preferred.) Notification of acceptance will be send late June 2013. We
hope to be able to provide travel bursaries for accepted papers.
This conference is part of the Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin
Symposium Series Feminist Philosophy and…. For further information about
the Symposium Series and about past events, please see http://blogs.hu-berlin.de/feminist_philosophy/. For queries concerning the forthcoming event on Pornography, please contact Mari Mikkola (mari.mikkola AT hu-berlin.de).