Erin Barry

Date of Award

Spring 5-15-2023

Author's School

Graduate School of Arts and Sciences

Author's Department


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Degree Type



Through an innovative examination of scale (local, state, and national regulatory structures), space (the location of theaters, the spatial arrangements inside them) and place (the cities and suburbs in which these battles took place), my dissertation on the regulation of adult theaters in the 1970s raises compelling questions about sexuality, space and the various levels at which citizenship is enacted and policed. I utilize three Supreme Court cases, Paris Adult Theater v. Slaton, which dealt with consent and the application of community standards, Erznoznik v. Jacksonville, which addressed bans on nudity and pornography at drive-in theaters, and Young v. American Mini-Theatres, which validated exclusionary zoning laws as a constitutionally appropriate regulation of adult theaters, as the foundation of my project. While these three cases were litigated at the national level, they emerged from local contexts where the physical presence of adult theaters served as visible reminders of the ways that sexual commerce was remapping the American landscape. Adult theaters in particular offer a way to interrogate the ways visual and physical space complicate notions of public and private. I explore the local contexts of these laws, emerging from Atlanta, Georgia, Jacksonville, Florida and Detroit, Michigan, placing these cases in the wider history of how these cities and suburbs negotiated both the use of space and racial, sexual and ideological differences in their populace. I consider descriptions of the communities that patronized the theaters against the perceptions of reformers, while also interrogating the possibilities and limitations of the legal system and the imbrications of municipal, state, and national regulatory structures.


English (en)

Chair and Committee

Andrea Friedman

Committee Members

Mary Ann Dzuback, Heather Berg, Douglas Flowe, Shefali Chandra,