Stigma and the Shaping of the Pornography Industry. Routledge. 2015.

In this book I explore the effects that this stigmatized identity has had on the adult entertainment industry itself. From the video era to the emergence of the internet, to trade shows, white collar work, technological innovation, and industrial dynamics, this work looks beyond content production to explore how stigma has shaped the structures, practices, norms, and boundaries of the wider sector. Drawing on framings such as dirty work, outlaw innovation, and core-stigmatised industries, I examine how stigma is socially constructed and managed, and the deep structural effects it creates.

Forms of behaviour per se do not differentiate deviants from non-deviants; it is the responses of the conventional and conforming members of the society who identify and interpret behaviour as deviant which sociologically transform persons into deviants. (Kitsuse, 1962: 253)

The event is held in a four star hotel in Bloomsbury, central London. Outside, the décor is neo-Georgian, inside is dark and cool. As you walk in you are met by a large sculpture of a red stag perched atop four large white cushions; to the right is the reception desk, to the left the bar, where the stools are upholstered in crushed velvet and a plain filter coffee costs four pounds and fifty pence. The area is populated by people who, judging by their name badges and lanyards, are all there for the same show. They are mostly men, mostly white; many in suits or ‘smart casual’ polo shirts and jeans, although some have their company’s name and logos (‘Boost Your Success With Global Payment’) stitched to the back of their shirts. Babbles of English, French, and German echoes across the space. A board showing the seminar timetable stands at the head of the corridor leading to the event rooms – ‘Mobile Market: A European Perspective’ this afternoon, followed by ‘E-Billing: Strategies for Greater Profit’. In a small room around the corner, hotel staff are setting up the drinks for the networking reception. Everything about this seems much the same as any tech industry conference: the free canvas bags given out at reception which everyone scavenges for the good freebies before abandoning them in the corner of the room; the sponsors’ vertical banner stands lining the hallways; the new software demonstrations; the gender (im)balance; panels where industry experts try to simultaneously answer audience questions about revenue models whilst selling their own products; and, at the drinks reception, ‘booth babes’ in denim shorts and white vests.

It would be easy, and cheap, to make the grand reveal at this juncture: to pull back the curtain to show that this is actually a trade event for people who work in the online pornography industry; that beneath the respectable corporate veneer lies dirt and deviance. But it is all rather more mundane and more complicated than that. One might want to avoid reading the show guide in public on the Tube home; but then again there are only two images of topless women in a 40-page booklet, and both are tamer than anything found on Page 3 of that day’s copy of The Sun newspaper. Direct references to ‘porn’ are sporadic; talk of ‘adult’ and ‘X’ is more common, and of ‘traffic’ and ‘conversions’ more frequent still. Only at the software demonstration is there any visual indication of the product being sold, on the slides projected up onto a large screen. The rest of the show is talking-head panels and networking: meetings, yes, but also a lot of catching up and gossiping about colleagues at other companies.

Over the two days of the shows, signs slowly emerge around the effects that stigma had on this sector. In the spaces between panels, attendees drop in comments about how they obliquely explain what line of work they are in to distant family members. In seminars on mobile platforms, delegates express frustrations at not being able to develop apps for the Apple app store, whilst speakers caution that US mobile network carriers continued to refuse to carry explicit material as part of promoting a ‘family image’. And in the background, the logos of the show’s eleven sponsors; five of whom are the billing companies and payment processors who provided the means for customers to make online purchases after major finance companies refused to directly process ‘high risk’ pornography transactions.

As this show indicates, there is no clean categorization of the pornography industry as abnormal, immoral, unclean, other, but a complicated mix of factors around its identity which spill over into the products it develops, the platforms it uses, the people it hires, the interactions it has with the spatial environment, its norms, its networks, its culture. This book asks: how does stigma shape the pornography industry? How does a spoiled identity (Goffman 1963) manifest across a complex, variegated, and dispersed sector?