"definitional ruptures"

Mihaela Popescu mpopescu at ASC.UPENN.EDU
Thu Sep 11 13:06:30 UTC 2003

Dear list members,

I am working on a dissertation proposal that presumably attempts
to gain insight into the mechanics of accusations of obscenity in
legal context. I am particularly interested in what E. Schiappa calls
"definitional ruptures" - in my case, instances in which one
established definition of obscenity gets replaced by another.
Basically, I am asking two broad questions (that hopefully will
become more specific as I think about all this): a). how do we
recognize that a shift in the definition has taken place [clearly that
must have happened a number of times, since at the end of the
19th century obscenity had to do with "outrageously vulgar words",
and nowadays is "patently offensive depictions of sexual acts"],
and b). once we identify a shift, how do we explain it - whether we
can identify a pattern of "things" that must happen for a definition
to be replaced by another.

I am planning to gather textual data (judicial opinions, docket files
and records of courtroom interactions) of about 85 obscenity cases
at the Supreme Court level. Unfortunately, I am a complete novice
in the area of CDA. I was wondering whether a). given my
questions, CDA is a good way to go about analyzing the data, and
b). whether you could suggest references to similar work done
using CDA in other areas.

Any help would be much appreciated. Thank you.


Mihaela Popescu
Doctoral student
The Annenberg School for Communication
University of Pennsylvania
Tel.: (215) 898 6017

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