A Genealogy of “Rape Culture”: Knowing and Governing Sexual Violence

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Sibley, Marcus Andrew




In 2015, the Ontario government cited "rape culture" as the driving force behind provincial legislation requiring universities to count incidences of sexual violence through bolstered reporting mechanisms. The term is often described as a relic of 1970s radical feminism, and the contemporary reemergence of the phrase rape culture in social, political, and legal discourses marks a need to examine how understandings of sexual violence continue to be framed as part of a wider cultural problem. Using Michel Foucault's genealogical method and Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari's ideas of rhizomes and assemblages, I map the empirical, affective, and sociolegal dimensions of a rape culture paradigm. In doing so, I ask: What are the social and historic conditions that give rise to the rape culture paradigm? What are epistemological frameworks that galvanize the social ontology of rape culture? In what ways is the concept deployed and how does it shape efforts to regulate and criminalize sexual and gender-based violence? Beginning with an examination of radical feminist activism in the US and Canada from the late 1960s onwards, I consider how the idea of rape culture expands traditional definitions of corporeal harm to include cultural forms of gendered violence. The making of the rape culture concept rests in mapping pathology beyond individual rapists and theorizing the attitudes towards rape—and acts of sexual assault—as cultural pathology. This relies upon challenging traditional psy knowledges related to rapists and deviancy in favour of highlighting the normality and ubiquity of rapists. Contemporary calls to combat rape culture have centred on the regulation of sexual violence on university campuses. This project also considers the specific discursive technologies used to construct the "rape campus." It argues that recent political and legal responses to rape culture on university campuses is folded into existing carceral and punitive assemblages that seek to criminalize sexual violence. Thus, this dissertation contributes to a historicization of the rape culture concept, its deployment, and how it shapes understandings of sexual violence theory and governance.


Criminology and Penology
Gender Studies




Carleton University

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Legal Studies

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Theses and Dissertations

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