new formations: a journal of culture/theory/politics
Volume 80-81, 2013
This essay aims to explore the relationship between neoliberal ideologies and sexuality, by considering questions of criticality and political agency in relation to pornography. The essay identifies a trend in contemporary porn studies work towards a ‘constrained optimism’ that also expresses a wider deadlock in cultural and media studies. This arises from a need to protect the concept of individual agency against reactionary movements, alongside a tendency to elide the implications of consumerism in neoliberal cultures. Much porn studies work is critical of tendencies in altporn, most significantly around questions of labour and commodification. Yet work in this area also tends to remain invested in the promise of agency, where this agency is a function of the expansion of the technological resources available in a networked culture, the proliferation of choice, and the blurred boundary between consumer and producer. This essay seeks to move beyond this deadlock by drawing on recent work on the concept of the enterprise society, elaborated by Foucault in The Birth of Biopolitics, and taken up by writers such as McNay, who have suggested that Foucault’s insight fundamentally challenges the relationship between individual autonomy and political resistance, where that autonomy guarantees not liberty but responsible self-management. The essay considers the figure of the entrepreneurial voyeur, in the light of concepts of immaterial labour offered by Lazzarato and critiqued by McRobbie, and goes on to make a sustained reading of the film Made in Secret in order to map ways in which we might be able to imagine how the affective pleasures of pornography might not simply underwrite alienated and competitive modes of being but might help us to imagine more radical forms of sociality.