CFP Feminism and Pornography, Berlin: EXTENDED DEADLINE

— Please note the new deadline for submissions: 6th of May 2013 —






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 6th of MAY 2013 to 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 For queries concerning the forthcoming event on Pornography, please contact Mari Mikkola (mari.mikkola AT

8 thoughts on “CFP Feminism and Pornography, Berlin: EXTENDED DEADLINE

  1. This is a fantastic-sounding call, but I do wish a feminist-conscious CFP didn’t say “Langton’s seminal article.” (I know, feminists don’t all agree on this being a word with undesirable freight, but seminal?)

  2. I thought ‘seminal’ came from the Latin for ‘seed’. So it shares a root with ‘semen’, but does that mean it’s not a good word? That seems like a mistake to me. (Do you dislike the word ‘seminar’?)

  3. Good question, Mark! I actually love the side-topic of feminist objections to ‘seminal,’ which is funny, because this debate is not anywhere near my expertise but seems a fascinating hobby. (I find much of philosophy to fit this description, come to think of it.)

    I do not dislike the word ‘seminar’. But ‘seminar’ has not typically been associated with the functions of the word ‘seminal,’ which is almost always used to indicate that some seedlike thing is generative in an active way, a masculine-associated idea since before Aristotle wrote De Anima. And to quote Jenna McWilliams, with whom I don’t always agree but whose wording I enjoy on this point:

    “If I’m a seminal thinker, that’s because my seeds have germinated–because they were fertilized, and took root, and grew. Because the spreading of seed also requires germination, now we’ve headed into the world of male-female sexual activity. You can tell me the root of the term is botanical, not biological, but you can’t argue that the root word, semen, is more strongly botanical in our culture than it is biological. Which means that in general use, the words semen, seminal, and disseminate are at least more strongly linked to the biological activity of heterocopulation than to the botanical activity of plant reproduction.”

    She lists alternatives to the seminal, here:

    Hilariously, when I once edited a work by Laurence Thomas and encouraged him to change the word ‘seminal’ in describing Claudia Card’s work (since I have already had the experience of Claudia objecting to it), he most awesomely replied that he would be happy to change it but could only come up with “a vagination of insight.” I love Laurence for this! It makes ‘ovular’ look boring.

  4. “You can tell me the root of the term is botanical, not biological, but you can’t argue that the root word, semen, is more strongly botanical in our culture than it is biological.”

    But ‘semen’, the English word, is not the root word of ‘seminal’, anymore than it’s the root word of ‘seminar’, so I don’t think that’s correct. Of course, the Latin ‘semen’ is a root word, but the Latin ‘semen’ is most definitely more strongly botanical than it is biological, and that (Latin) word has no particular place in our culture (hardly any Latin words have).

    I do agree with you that the word (‘seminal’) means or connotes that some seedlike thing is generative in an active way. But that seems to me just as much a feminine metaphor as a masculine one. Note McWilliams’ own image:

    “If I’m a seminal thinker, that’s because my seeds have germinated–because they were fertilized, and took root, and grew.”

    Exactly. But if they were fertilized, then they were feminine! (Whatever did the fertilizing was masculine.) Things that are fertilized, take root, and grow… those are ova, right?

    There is certainly a lot of life-force imagery floating around ‘seminal’. I just don’t see why it’s supposed to be all masculine.

  5. Well, sure, no word is “supposed to be” anything. Words come and go and take on cultural associations in the process. I’m just describing what is, in the Anglophone world these days, the going connotation, which is the spreading of seed.

    Of course ova can be fertlized, which is why some feminists have in the past suggested replacing “seminal” with “ovular,” because if seminal isn’t masculine, then no one will mind “ovular” right? It’s not like it’s feminine, it’s just a word sort of referring to an egg, wink wink. This did not catch on, although it is fun to google the seminal vs. ovular discussion and note that some are just outraged at the idea of an alternative.

    Yep, Latin roots sure are far from us, which is why I’m not talking about the Latin. Instead I mean to point out current cultural connotations.

  6. I see.
    Your reaction to ‘seminal’ is like some people’s reaction to ‘niggardly’ — nothing to do with semantic meaning or etymology, but a kind of sound-and-association problem. I guess my own experience of the cultural connotations is different.

    I’m not sure I get the ironic joke — of course something referring to an egg will have feminine overtones. (Eggs are feminine, but seeds aren’t masculine — seeds are plants’ eggs! Admittedly I’m riding roughshod over the gender/sex distinction here.) And I suspect the people who really hated the idea just don’t like *changing* words; that is, they don’t even like words to change, and they particularly hate conscious efforts to change them. Many people who would ordinarily not consider themselves conservative become extreme conservatives when it comes to language — it’s a strange phenomenon!

  7. Mark, I find debates about ‘niggardly’ likewise interesting, but my reaction to ‘seminal’ is a bit different. I think it’s overly strong wording to say my reaction has *nothing* to do with semantic meaning or etymology. As evinced by our discussion above, ‘seminal’ actually is semantically and etymologically related to ‘semen,’ since as you say they share a common ancestor. I do not believe my resistance to describing a feminist work on pornography as ‘seminal’ is merely a sound-and-association problem empty of semantic content. This makes my position sound less rational than it, in fact, is. However, it certainly seems that you and I share the truth between us (yes, I’m teaching J.S. Mill these days). This has been an interesting exchange. Thanks for it!

    Agreed about that lurking conservative reaction. I think many of us have some small resistances to changes in some words more than others, hence the recent lively discussion about the NYT piece on nominalizations:

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