Pornography, Pragmatism, and Proscription

25 Pages Posted: 13 Oct 2009

See all articles by Clare McGlynn

Clare McGlynn

Durham Law School, Durham University

Ian Ward

University of Newcastle upon Tyne - Faculty of Law


The Criminal Justice and Immigration Act 2008 criminalizes the possession of extreme pornography, namely, images of bestiality, necrophilia, and life-threatening or serious violence, and is the immediate context for this article which seeks to present a pragmatic liberal humanist critique of pornography regulation. Such a critique, derived in particular from the writings of Nussbaum and Rorty, presents an alternative case for regulation, eschewing the visceral competing fundamentalisms which characterized the ‘porn wars’ of the 1980s and 1990s. Whilst moral and epistemological philosophers squabble with radical feminists and radical libertarians, extreme pornography can nurture real injustice and ruin real lives. A pragmatic liberal humanism demands a pragmatic response to extreme pornography. The first part of this article will revisit the longer history of the ‘porn wars’; the second describes the parameters of a pragmatic liberal humanist critique; the third examines the shorter history of pornography regulation written into the provisions now enacted in the 2008 Act.

Suggested Citation

McGlynn, Clare M. S. and Ward, Ian, Pornography, Pragmatism, and Proscription. Journal of Law and Society, Vol. 36, Issue 3, pp. 327-351, September 2009. Available at SSRN: or

Clare M. S. McGlynn (Contact Author)

Durham Law School, Durham University ( email )

Durham University
Palatine Centre
Durham, County Durham DH1 3LE
United Kingdom
0191 334 2800 (Phone)


Ian Ward

University of Newcastle upon Tyne - Faculty of Law ( email )

21-24 Windsor Terrace
Newcastle upon Tyne, NE1 7RU
United Kingdom
+ 191 222 7620 (Phone)

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