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Images of Organized Sex: The Pornography Industry in India and Sweden

Final Report Summary - POST (Images of Organized Sex: The Pornography Industry in India and Sweden)

POST undertook its comparative research into the industrial-commercial bases in porn in India and The Netherlands, sites that have radically different social, political, economic, racial and cultural profiles. The project aimed to address a knowledge gap around the porn business in both India and the Netherlands. It weighted for the similarities and differences between these sites, to conceptualize pornography as inclusively and comprehensively as possible. For practical reasons the research was confined to examining adult heterosexual porn.
Pornography is best understood as a multi-media, multi-platform (now mainly digitized), transnational and multi-sectoral phenomenon. It is linked to and forms a part of a network and a conglomeration of complex intersecting, interrelated, historically implicated agencies, sites, discourses, interests, practices and apparatuses–statutory and non-state (market, underworld mafia, traffickers, filmmakers) formal and informal, actual and virtual. Therefore, it does not refer only to a genre of representation or a set of representational practices, but implies and encompasses a complex network of representational, discursive, industrial and technological practices, across media, industries and countries. Furthermore, the field of pornography is not homogeneous, but constituted of a variety of sexualities; a multiplicity of forms, genres, and media of representation; and a variety of processes of production, distribution, acquisition and use-consumption. The project arrived at the understanding that all pornography has a dual ontology–as material commodity and as representation. Then, all porn is always usable and transactable, as a material object, as well as always consumable, as a text that is ‘consumed’ by the porn-client, who is therefore referred to throughout the project as the ‘user-consumer’. Each porn-object may be understood to constitute a virtual, heterotopic space, its heterotopia being the inexhaustible sexual pleasure that is acclaimed endlessly within it. However, as this quality leaks away with time and usage, ways to defamiliarize–which often include evocations of the unacceptable, obscene and the extreme–are sought and found. A key reason for this is the imperative to monetize all that enters the field of pornographic, alongside the other key imperative to sexualize all that enters its representational field. Thus, all porn tends to test and push the boundaries of the familiar, and the acceptable. Porn’s endless quest for the ultimate heterotopia thus gives rise, on the one hand, to its close affiliation to technological innovation and the scopophilia inherent to the camera; on the other, to the predilection to violence that is its genetic legacy, from patriarchy and capitalism. This is exemplified by the literal deployment of the penis as symbolic of the phallic penetrative technologies of capital and patriarchy and of the camera as proxy penis and phallus. In visual porn, which requires human involvement in the making of its representations, this impulse tends to place its performers, especially the women, at risk, in the pursuit of extreme varieties of sexual pleasure. The lack of any legal or institutional safeguards, administrative prejudice and the growing culture of victim-blaming all allow porn makers to push the performers into harder and harder porn. The blurring of boundaries between the actual and the virtual, the real and the representational, and between sex-work and porn-work, and the intensification of neo-imperialism and its many calibrated violences, silences and methods of mechanization and use-objectification, results in a steep demand for extreme porn, that translates as more and more extreme forms of violation and/or degradation of the (men and) women involved. This is also one of the reasons why the field of the pornographic tends to be dogged by allegations of impropriety, poor ethics, illegality and even criminality.
It was found that the alleged distinctions between porn and sex work are getting more tenuous. Despite evidence of significant bidirectional links between prostitution and pornography, there are continuous attempts to separate pornography from sex work, and classify it as free speech and even a form of artistic expression, to be exempted from regulations that may apply to sex work. This mode of argumentation (and the opposition to it) is global. The distinction between sex work and porn is rendered even more tenuous both because of the (frequently disavowed or ignored) dynamic of industrial production, and because of the increasing role of digital technologies in the life and work of those engaged in sex-work. It was observed that maintaining the distinction is likely to result in more hazards for women engaged in pornographic productions. It was also noted that both the orientation toward censoring representations of the sexual and the pro-market liberationist laissez-faire position on sexual sex work and porn could contribute to consolidating orthodoxical sexual regimes.
The pro-porn feminist lobby, and commercial sex industrialists have tended to treat the pornographic as a ‘purely’ textual-representational phenomenon, to be governed by laws pertaining to free speech and artistic freedom. They frame arguments for decriminalization, legalization and regulation within the terms of “agency”, “entrepreneurship” and “rational choice”. The anti-porn position–constituted primarily of anti-porn feminists, religious and conservative groups and sometimes the state–has found itself aligned with rightwing forces, and has sometimes bypassed the importance of representational-discursive ‘excess’ and ‘obscenity’.
The research attempted to address certain epistemic fault lines and knowledge gaps that arise out of factors such as (a) bypassing the dynamics of production-distribution in porn, (b) the whiteness of theory in the field, (c) silences generated by stigma around researching porn. This stigma was found to be present at a number of levels even in Holland where sex work has been legal since 2000.
While researching into the dynamics of production and distribution, the research explored the systematized intersections between technology, money and sexuality. It found that the proliferation of pornography and the much-remarked pornification of culture and society are consequent to the ICT boom and to technologies of convergence. It was also observed that most ICT were MNCs and that most of the industry is privately owned by individuals or private corporations. In fact Adult Video Network reports on the established connections between and pornography and mainstream companies. Furthermore, increasingly aggressive porno-capitalist initiatives seek to legitimize and mainstream sin stocks by matching big-money investors with adult entertainment companies. The supposed gender-neutrality of MNCs was critically explored alongside the assertion that ICT is very much a men’s arena. These inquires bolstered the understanding of the ways in which the dynamic of homosociality structures and suffuses the organization of the porn business. Fieldwork revealed that strong homosocial bonds were present in production, distribution and use-consumption. POST theorized and analyzed the dynamic of homosociality and its relation to (trans)patriarchies. The links that the porn business tends to have with extra-legal (sometimes criminal) circuits that intersect with each other in crucial ways and, are organized, are run and are personed principally by men. The resulting local and transnational complex web of relations between men from various walks of life (including pimps or ‘agents’ (as they called by some), corporate men, the police, government officials, politicians, and so on) often facilitates these operations, their sustainability, and the safety and imbursement of those involved. The end result is the presence of male-controlled and definitively masculinist transnational operations that fuel, draw on and reinforce the already-present patriarchal biases of porn through particular types of homosocial alliance-building. The research therefore identified and analyzed the ways in which structural factors, developments in technology and money flows impact on the organization and material of gender and sexuality and on the logic of the allegedly discrete fields of the textual-representational.
Finally, there is unevenness in policy between and within countries, which is a direct function of the different conditions and situations that avail. This is not necessarily good or bad, although activists interviewed in both countries did remark on the impediments that this might cause on implementation, and the impression that there is no policy coherence. This situation was likely given the fact that different countries have different legal positions on porn and that there is still an active and fiery debate on what porn actually is. POST attempted to address these questions comprehensively. In summary, the research attempted to contribute to an understanding of porn as a phenomenon through its theoretical interventions, its original field data and the analyses of these.

This study has established that the phenomenon of pornography
a) Is a growing one in India and in Holland, both in terms of production and use-consumption.
b) Draws on, and facilitates, the growth of homosociality as an overarching principle along which it organizes itself.
c) Is closely associated with criminal activities and criminalization, to varying degrees, in both The Netherlands and in India.
d) Is inherently predilected toward criminalization, because of its tendency to push the borders of the acceptable and legitimate
e) Is profoundly exploitative of both its male and female participants, many of who are often marked by the precarity of their socio-economic positions.
f) Requires more nuanced policy measures to properly cognise and deal with the phenomenon itself, and its many related phenomena.

The project was investigative, not interventionist. It sought to compile and analyze data on the production of porn in India and in Holland, towards drafting more effective policies and thus, at this stage, has no direct socio-economic impact to report. However, in terms of wider societal implications and gender equality actions, as the central focus of POST – the field of pornography – is a notoriously gender-unequal sphere, the entire project addresses the issue of gender inequality, in and through the field of pornography. POST examined the impacts of the intersections of race, nationality, citizenship, economic status and cultural differences on understanding the dynamics of gender and sexuality, and the field of representation and representational practices. The project found that the vast majority of porn productions, whether amateur or professional, tend to deploy sexuality, audio-visual technologies, technologies of transmission, dissemination, access and reception, in consonance with the specific postulations of regional patriarchates, to reinforce gender inequalities. POST thus engages with one widely held view – that porn is liberatory – not to dismiss it outright, but to significantly qualify it, to argue that the potential for porn to become liberatory remains, in the case of most porn, an unrealized one.