[Air-l] CFP: Obscenity: An Obermann Center Humanities Symposium

Karla-Tonella at uiowa.edu Karla-Tonella at uiowa.edu
Thu Sep 21 08:21:33 PDT 2006

Call for Papers

An Obermann Center Humanities Symposium

The University of Iowa
March 1-4, 2007

In 1966, anthropologist Mary Douglas published her groundbreaking 
study, Purity and Danger:  An Analysis of the Concept of Pollution 
and Taboo, asserting that "dirt" is a "universal theme across human 
societies."  Douglas issued her book during a period of massive 
liberalization of censorship practices in English-speaking societies 
that led lawyer Charles Rembar to declare "the end of obscenity." 
Where Douglas saw a universal cultural theme, Rembar saw a concept 
that had lost its cultural significance.  The proximity of these 
claims indicates a persistent paradox:  while the category of 
obscenity would appear to be "universal," its meaning is so vague and 
variable that it is almost impossible to pin down in what this 
universality consists.

The opening of the 21st century is a felicitous time to interrogate 
the "universality" of obscenity in terms of the globalization of 
culture and postmodern skepticism in the human sciences. This 
symposium is intended to enable an interdisciplinary and 
cross-cultural dialogue that will analyze this notoriously vague yet 
apparently perennial concept in an historical and global context.

Possible topics will include, but will not be limited to, the following:
- How do definitions of obscenity vary across cultures and historical periods?
- How do identity categories of race, ethnicity, class, gender, 
sexuality, and disability inflect or inform issues of obscenity?
- What is the relation between verbal and visual instances of obscenity?
- To what degree is religion implicated in definitions of obscenity?
- How is obscenity inflected or informed by family structures and practices?
- How do issues of obscenity vary across institutional locations?
- In what ways are attacks on obscenity related to media ownership 
and the development of new media?
- How is obscenity related to cognate concepts such as indecency, 
pornography, and profanity?

Speakers include Nadine Strossen (New York University), Michael 
Taussig (Columbia University), John D. Peters (University of Iowa), 
Laura Kipnis (Northwestern University), Linda Williams (UC Berkeley), 
Judith Krug (American Library Association), William Mazzarella 
(University of Chicago), and Lamia Karim (University of Oregon).

Please submit 300-word abstracts online at
by December 1, 2006.

Address any questions to Loren Glass at obscenity at uiowa.edu

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