Street, Footpath, Gated Community: Masculinity, Pornography and the Erotics of Tradition and Modernity

July 2020 – Public Lecture by Sanjay Srivastava 

This talk explores the relationship between urban spaces and the narratives of contemporary Indian pornography. The broader context of the discussion concerns relationships between new cultures of consumerism and space, changing class configurations, and narratives of sexual intimacy. In an earlier work, I have investigated the spatialized meanings inherent in what I referred to as ‘footpath pornography’: poorly produced and cheaply sold booklets available in most Indian cities. My concern with respect to the footpath pornography material was the circulation of meanings regarding intimacy that addressed the concerns and desires of the urban poor. In the present discussion, I position that concern alongside a different context, that of the sexual narratives that address the urban middle classes. In order to do this, I provide an ethnography of new spaces of residence and leisure which, though seemingly unconnected to sexuality, are, I suggest, vital to an understanding of contemporary sexual modernity. Through juxtaposing the footpath material with the internet based ‘Savita Bhabhi ’ (‘sister-in-law Savita’) comic, I explore the key differences in the manner in which notions of the ‘erotic’ play out across different registers of class and the ways in which ‘tradition’ and ‘modernity’ becomes sites of male desire. The discussion seeks to connect the economies of desire with varying political economies of the city so as to both sexualize political economy and politicize libidinal ones.

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