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Undoing the Scene of Sex: Affirmative Consent and the Limits of Recognition in Law's Imaginary

Brian, Larissa (2019) Undoing the Scene of Sex: Affirmative Consent and the Limits of Recognition in Law's Imaginary. Doctoral Dissertation, University of Pittsburgh. (Unpublished)

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This dissertation study, “Undoing the Scene of Sex: Affirmative Consent and the Limits of Recognition in Law’s Imaginary” inquires into newly promulgated affirmative consent laws on U.S. college campuses that seek to remedy a culture of sexual violence by imagining new discursive forms of consent (“yes means yes” instead of “no means no”). Building off of feminist scholars who have long recognized the limits of consent law, I trouble over a newly emerging feminist reliance on affirmative consent as a revolutionary discursive tool. Through rhetorical and post-structural inquiry, I closely analyze the various ways in which affirmative consent doctrine imagines, outlines, and limns the scene of sexual encounter wherein subjects are understood to recognize one another through particular communicative acts that appear as legible under law. What I find is that the polysemous contours of speech exceed the very parameters of consent law that construct sex as normatively linear, unambiguous, and with a clear telos. Each chapter settles on a legal case or example that destabilizes the articulated promises of affirmative consent doctrine. Chapter 1 plots the critical terrain, questions, and aims of the project. Chapter 2 studies a court ruling that (mis)interprets the “safeword” as antithetical to affirmative recognition. Chapter 3 inquires into newly designed affirmative consent smartphone apps that attempt to ground consent in a technological contract. Chapter 4 investigates a case involving incapacity and sexual violence, and Chapter 5 reconsiders desire and contingency by drawing upon phenomenological conceptions of language and the flesh. My argument over the course of this project is not necessarily to dispense with affirmation as such, but to claim that affirmation requires a sense of productive negativity (in the form of risk) if it wants to perform as a creative tool for erotic communication. A primary aim in this interdisciplinary work is to illuminate the limits and possibilities of justice so as to make us better attuned to legal claims that work against their own promise of redress. This is a meaningful work for those across the fields of feminist theory, rhetorical studies, legal studies, continental philosophy, and sexuality studies/queer theory.


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Item Type: University of Pittsburgh ETD
Status: Unpublished
CreatorsEmailPitt UsernameORCID
Brian, Larissalarissabrian29@gmail.comLAB158
ETD Committee:
TitleMemberEmail AddressPitt UsernameORCID
Committee ChairOlson,
Committee MemberMalin,
Committee MemberMarshall,
Committee MemberClarke,
Committee MemberDoxtader,
Date: 21 June 2019
Date Type: Publication
Defense Date: 29 March 2019
Approval Date: 21 June 2019
Submission Date: 14 June 2019
Access Restriction: 5 year -- Restrict access to University of Pittsburgh for a period of 5 years.
Number of Pages: 222
Institution: University of Pittsburgh
Schools and Programs: Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences > Communication: Rhetoric and Communication
Degree: PhD - Doctor of Philosophy
Thesis Type: Doctoral Dissertation
Refereed: Yes
Uncontrolled Keywords: affirmative sexual consent, law, sexual violence, desire, recognition, negativity, risk, phenomenology, rhetoric
Date Deposited: 21 Jun 2019 15:59
Last Modified: 21 Jun 2019 15:59


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