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Research Area 3: Cultural Transformation and Performativity Studies

Oliver Gargan, „O'Connell Monument top closeup 1” ( Edited by BR, CC BY-SA 4.0 (

The performative refers to eventful, corporeal, powerful practices found in any cultural area – from voguing to voting, funerals to universities, dating to meditating. The term characterizes acts which have a specific force, since by doing them they bring about a new state of affairs. They move beyond the mere descriptive or the accumulation of knowledge or skills, but bring about a qualitative change in self- and world-relations. When performances are repeated they generate behaviors, identities, conventions, social models, values, rules, meanings, feelings and imaginations.
Performativity therefore holds the potential to impact social developments and to propel cultural transformation. The clue is that this can happen intentionally but also by accident - and those accidents are of special interest for our research area, since they reveal something about performativity’s chiastic structure where both always already are crossing over: success and failure, reinforcement and subversion, congruity and parody.
Any performative act happens in a specific situational context that impacts its effectiveness and validity. Performativity's double character is due to the fact that those contexts aren't completely controllable, sterile or foreseeable, but that they come with a certain unevenness due to the inherent waywardness of the relational, somatic and material world. This enables loopholes for surprising outcomes and resistance. It allows for a wiggle room, in which cultural norms are not only incorporated but also excorporated or re-interpreted. Such an approach highlights not only the interference of continuities and discontinuities, and the simultaneity of the dissimilar as fundamental features of cultural transformations. Furthermore, it emphasizes the agency of subjects, objects and other entities to bring about socio-cultural change.

We are particularly interested in new materialist and queer perspectives that acknowledge the fundamental role of matter and the ‘more-than-human’ in meaning-generating as well as change-provoking processes. Approaching performativity from a variety of disciplines, we investigate different forms of art (i.e. performance, theatre, film, photography, music, visual art, literature), cultural and historical phenomena, and lived experiences in contemporary society.

Currently, the group discusses the potentials that lie in moments of error, failure or non-sovereignty, at times with a special focus on a broad conception of the topic  of sex/uality as a performative phenomena. Including discourses on gender, desire, the sexual we are for instance interested in aesthetic strategies of displaying sex or in cultivating sexual manners as a means of dealing with risks and inconveniences of intimate encounters.


Participating Scholars (among others)

  • Beate Absalon (Speaker)
  • Tatsiana Artsimovich
  • Paul Kaletsch
  • Vira Sachenko
  • Juliane Saupe


If you are interested in the work of this Research Area, would like to join, have ideas for an event, a cooperation, or any questions, please contact