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Drawing Attention: Art, pornography, ethnosemiotics and law

McHoul, A. and Summerfield, T. (2013) Drawing Attention: Art, pornography, ethnosemiotics and law. In: Wagner, A. and Sherwin, R.K., (eds.) Law, Culture and Visual Studies. Springer Netherlands, pp. 225-240.

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We compare here the everyday and legal readings of two controversial cases from mid-2008 in Australia in which the legal status of a number of photographs came into contestation. The first case turned on an exhibition of photographs by the well-known artist, Bill Henson; the second, a cover from Art Monthly magazine. Both cases involved young persons and nudity.

Our first approach to the cases is to look in detail at ‘child pornography’ law in Australia, by reference to the three jurisdictions in which the photographs were tested. We want to tease out the actual legal situation regarding the demarcation between licit and unlawful images (in terms of their pornographic status), especially where minors may be concerned.

Our second approach is ethnosemiotic. Here we investigate how non-specialist or ordinary members of the society treated the controversies. As an example, we turn to a web discussion site and describe the ethnosemiotic resources that the contributors brought into play in an effort to comprehend these matters.

Finally, we speculate on the gaps and overlaps between ‘ordinary’ and ‘formal’ modes of legal reasoning based on these two approaches.

Item Type: Book Chapter
Murdoch Affiliation(s): School of Arts
Publisher: Springer Netherlands
Copyright: 2014 Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht.
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