Performing Sexual Emancipation the Emmanuelle Narratives (1959-2012)

Thursday, 19 July 2018: 18:10
Oral Presentation
Martina CVAJNER, University of Trento, Italy
In current sociological folklore, the sixties are associated to a radical «Sexual Revolution» that seemingly changed the meaning of sexual life. The analysis of its behavioural consequences is currently at the center of an ample variety of social research programs. Across Western countries, and increasingly also outside the western world, there is a growing output of academic literature documenting the changes in sexual practices, roles and identities unleashed by such revolution.

At the same time, until now there has been very little work carried out on the cultural sociology of such revolution. Few studies analyzed how sexual emancipation has been framed, described and narrated for its several audiences. This is surprising, as one of the most outstanding outcomes of this alleged revolution has been the birth and growth of a legitimate market of erotic literature, movies and paraphernalia devoted to portray how an emancipated sexual life looks like.

The paper analyzes the changes in the character of Emmanuelle, one of the most important and long-lived icons of erotic emancipation. It chronicles the changes in the portrayal of the character of Emmanuelle, a young woman entering a voyage of erotic self-discovery. It starts with the 1959 underground text, bound to quickly become a classic of French and international erotic literature. It follows it through its incarnations in several differentiated strings of erotic movies in the ‘70s and ‘80s, as well as its appearance in graphic novels, magazines, videogames and even pieces of furniture. It continues the analyses with its reboot through various TV-series from the early 90s to 2012. Through the semantic analysis of the codes employed to portray the very same character (and her relations and practices) along several decades and media, the paper is able to address issues of stability and change in the cultural narratives of sexual life.