Department or Program



I ask how the public-private distinction impacts legality, particularly with respect to the “public sphere”; I use “public nudity” as a vehicle through which to understand the larger legal implications of the public-private distinction. Given that public nudity is only offensive (and subsequently illegal) because of how the body is constructed, opinions on when and whether it can be prohibited reveal the various liberal positions on the limits of the public sphere. To show how the naked body is constructed as nude (a social stigma associated with being unclothed,) I adopt a Foucauldian account of modern power, which clashes with liberal theorists’ focus on “power as law” (what Foucault calls a “juridico-discursive” theory of power.) I temporarily set aside this tension, re-adopting a juridico-discursive theory of power in order to explore the relationship between law, the public sphere, and liberal theory. Given these findings, I formulate a tentative conclusion, which relies on liberal assumptions about power as law. I subsequently deconstruct these assumptions, undermining the foundation for liberals’ presumed public-private divide altogether. I conclude by questioning how to reconceive the public-private distinction given liberal theory’s unfounded assumptions about power, autonomy, and the role of law.

Level of Access

Open Access

First Advisor

Corlett, William

Date of Graduation


Degree Name

Bachelor of Arts

Number of Pages


Open Access

Available to all.