Jennifer Tyburczy: "Obscene Capitalism: NAFTA, Moral Regulation, and the Economy of Censorship in Canada"


In this workshop, Jennifer Tyburczy shares what she has learned from studying the censorship archives at the Sexual Representation Collection and the Canadian Lesbian and Gay Archives and interviewing a vast array of people who had some connection to the search, seizure, and censorship of gay and lesbian materials by Canadian Customs from the 1980s to the early 2000s. Primarily she asks, Why and how does the ideology and application of "free trade" render some but not all objects legal or illegal to import and export? With a research focus on the bookstores Glad Day in Toronto and Little Sister's in Vancouver, she argues that NAFTA's so-called opening of borders to the "free" flow of goods actually  operationalized and weaponized existing local and domestic governance (Butler, the Theatres Act, the Customs Tariff Act, and the Criminal Code) to regulate and render "obscene" (as in off scene) sexual cultural production that failed to match rhetorical and normative claims to national (Canadian) citizenship. Overall, she argues that "free trade," nominally branded as secular, always incorporated loopholes for moral regulation. Furthermore, she pushes back against the limitations of the censorship archive for what isn't present therein: how "free trade" legalizes and illegalizes certain kinds of border-crossings not only as they relate to things but also to people. The workshop will close by inviting the audience to help her put the research in trinational context to collectively discuss how "free trade" can simultaneously render "legal" certain goods, while creating new categories of "obscene" thingness and people.  

Jennifer Tyburczy is Associate Professor of Feminist Studies, Director of the LGBTQ Studies Minor, and affiliated faculty in the Department of Theater and Dance, Chicana/Chicano Studies, English, and the Latin American and Iberian Studies Program at the University of California, Santa Barbara. Her first book, Sex Museums: The Politics and Performance of Display (Chicago 2016) was the Winner of the 29th annual Lambda Literary Award for LGBT Studies. Her research has also been published in Criticism, Journal of Literary & Cultural Disability Studies, Museum & Society, QED, Radical History Review, Signs, Text & Performance Quarterly, and Women & Performance, the latter article awarded the Crompton-Noll Award. Based on her research for Sex Museums, she curated the Allan Bérubé Prize-winning exhibition Irreverent: A Celebration of Censorship for the Leslie-Lohman Museum of Gay and Lesbian Art in New York. Tyburczy is currently at work on a second book project, Sex After NAFTA: Crossing Borders, Erotic Investments, and the Economy of Free Trade, in which she employs an interdisciplinary methodology to trace the influence of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) on everyday practices of sex and sexuality in Canada, Mexico, and the United States.