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SoSe 2017: Key Concerns in the Study of Culture

Summer Semester 2017
Key Concerns in the Study of Culture


Rhoda Reddock (University of the West Indies at St. Augustine, Trinidad & Tobago)

Victimhood Discourses in Postcolonial Multiethnic Societies

25.04.2017, 18-20, room 001, MFR

Professor of Gender & Development and Head of the Centre for Gender and Development Studies at the University of the West Indies, St. Augustine campus

Main Research Interests

  • Women’s labour
  • Gender and history
  • The intersectionality of race, class and gender

Publications (selected)

  • Interrogating Caribbean Masculinities: Theoretical and Empirical Analyses. St. Augustine: University of the West Indies Press, 2004.
  • Caribbean Sociology: Introductory Readings. Jamaica: Ian Randle Publishers, 2001.
  • Women, Labour and Politics in Trinidad and Tobago: A History. In: Palgrave Macmillan Journals 1998.


This paper seeks to provide a new conceptual and analytical framework for understanding how problematic conceptions of ‘self’ and ‘other’ are constructed among communities and within groups and communities in post-colonial multi-ethnic societies. While using the specific case of Trinidad and Tobago, it draws on experiences from post-colonial societies in similar situations globally exploring dimensions of inter-ethnic tensions, competition, conflict and social relations and their gendered manifestations. Drawing on ideas from political psychology it explores the efforts of postcolonial societies to build nation-states out of the violent and unequal legacy of racialized and ethnicized colonial political economy.


Aaron Kamugisha (University of the West Indies at Cave Hill, Barbados)

Sylvia Wynter’s Black Metamorphosis and the Emergence of African Diaspora Studies in the Caribbean

09.05.2017, 18-20, room 001, MFR

Programme Coordinator and Senior Lecturer in Cultural Studies at the University of the West Indies, Cave Hill campus

Main Research Interests

  • Anti-colonial thought
  • Caribbean cultural studies
  • The coloniality of citizenship in the contemporary Anglophone Caribbean

Publications (selected)

  • With Yanique Hume, Caribbean Popular Culture: Power, Politics and Performance. Jamaika: Ian Randle Publishers, 2016.
  • With Yanique Hume, Caribbean Cultural Thought: From Plantation to Diaspora. Jamaika: Ian Randle Publishers, 2013.
  • Caribbean Political Thought: The Colonial State to Caribbean Internationalisms. Jamaika: Ian Randle Publishers, 2013.


In my lecture, I discuss the path-breaking importance of Sylvia Wynter’s Black Metamorphosis: New Natives in a New World, an unpublished 900-page manuscript written by her in the 1970s. Black Metamorphosis is a remarkable manuscript, and deserves close study for a number of reasons. It is arguably the most important unpublished non-fiction work by an Anglophone Caribbean intellectual, and the major guide to the transition in Wynter’s thought between her work mainly on the Caribbean and Black America in the 1960s and 1970s, and her theory of the human from the early 1980s onwards. A close study of Black Metamorphosis also reveals that it is a crucial text for comprehending the emergence of African diaspora studies in the post-independence Anglophone Caribbean, and is in fact the most sustained, and compelling interpretations of the black experience in the Western hemisphere ever written by a Caribbean intellectual.


Jonathan David Katz (University at Buffalo, New York)

How AIDS Changed American Culture

06.06.2017, 18-20, room 001, MFR

Associate Professor, Department of Art at the University at Buffalo, New York

Main Research Interests

  • The arts of the Cold War era
  • The question of why the American avant-garde came to be dominated and defined by queer artists during what was perhaps the single most homophobic decade (the Cold War era) in this nation’s history


Publications (selected)

  • Performative Silence and the Politics of Passivity. In: Making a Scene, ed. Henry Rogers. London: Birmingham University Press, 1999. John Cage's Queer Silence or How to Avoid Making Matters Worse. In: GLQ, Duke University Press, 1999. Reprinted in Here Comes Everybody: The Music Poetry and Art of John Cage, ed. David Bernstein, Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1999.
  • Lovers and Divers: Picturing a Partnership in Rauschenberg and Johns. In: Frauen/Kunst/Wissenschaft, 1998.



What happens to Barthes' celebrated notion of "the death of the author" when it ceases as metaphor and turns horrifyingly literal? AIDS first emerged into public consciousness at roughly the same time that the death of the author became a critical mantra in American cultural studies. In this talk, Katz investigates the ugly convergence of postmodernism's denigration of authoriality and expressivity with the advent of the 20th century's deadliest plague. He will illustrate how and why a new AIDS art learned to camouflage its critical investments, performing a fidelity to postmodernist precepts of anti-expressivity even as it worked to seed complex social, political and even autobiographical meanings. That these works have rarely if ever been understood as socially engaged is in fact precisely the point, proof positive of their critical success. Ironically, a critical theory that was centered on the proliferation of readerly meanings was called upon to both police and contain individual expression. More than simply decoding the social resonance of works never previously understood in an AIDS context, Katz will underscore how and why the rapid ascendance of postmodernist thought in America was in fact keyed to the most noxious forms of homophobia and AIDSphobia.


Mark McGurl (Stanford University, California)

Being and Time-Management: Fictions of Opportunity Cost in the Long Age of Amazon

20.06.2017, 18-20, room 001, MFR

Professor of English at Stanford University, California

Main Research Interests

  • American Literature
  • Modern and Postmodern literature
  • Literary Criticism/Theory


Publications (selected)

  • The Program Era: Postwar Fiction and the Rise of Creative Writing. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2009.
  • The Novel Art: Elevations of American Fiction after Henry James. New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 2001.
  • Social Geometries: Taking Place in Henry James. California: University of California Press, 1999.



To speak of literature in the Age of Amazon is perforce to speak of it in relation to consumerism and the consumer economy, these things, dating by most accounts to middle of the 18th century and exploding at the end of the 19th, of which is in some obvious ways the 21st century apogee. While some very fine scholarly work has been done on the so-called culture of consumption, surprisingly little has been made of the revolution in economic theory it carried in train, the so-called neoclassical or Austrian or marginal revolution. It is in this body of thought, I will argue, that we encounter a concept crucial for illuminating both the reflexive self-construction of narrative fiction as a certain kind of consumer good, offering certain kinds of satisfaction, and the absolute limit to that self-construction owing to the nature of time. This is the concept of opportunity cost, and by showing its relevance both to 19th century psychological realism and early-20th century modernism, I hope in this lecture to lay the groundwork for a deeper understanding of the literature of the present.


Erik Born (Cornell University, Ithaca, New York)

In Praise of Infrastructure

27.06.2017, 18-20, room 001, MFR

Mellon Fellow, Department of German, Cornell University, Ithaca, New York

Main Research Interests

  • The emergence of wireless technologies around 1900
  • Relations between old media and new media
  • The history of mysticism, interface design, and digital textbooks


Publications (selected)

  • Co-editor of Neighbors and Neighborhoods: Living Together in the German-Speaking World. United Kingdom: Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2012.
  • Author of articles on early avant-garde films and medieval media theory.



“Infrastructure,” as comedian John Oliver points out, “is not sexy.” Only when infrastructures malfunction, when a bridge collapses, when a nuclear reactor melts down, or when a denial-of-service attack shuts down half the Internet, do these crucial everyday services receive any public attention.

The emerging field of “infrastructure studies” seeks to remedy this blind spot. At the nexus of urban planning, public policy, media studies, and the history of technology, the study of infrastructure addresses problems of scale, draws attention to the materiality of technology, and shifts the locus of critique from the nodes in a network to the connections between them. While recent studies have tended to focus on contemporary concerns, the field itself arguably has deeper roots in the venerable sciences of Verkehrswissenschaften, which studied the movements of people, goods, and messages in tandem.

After providing a comparative overview of these academic fields, the focus of this lecture will be on representations of infrastructure in modern German literature, especially the lyric genre. In contrast to the current inconspicuousness of infrastructure in the public sphere, the celebration of infrastructure in German modernity took the form of songs in praise of actual inventions, comic blame of impossible ones, and, above all, affirmations of the newly ascendant class of engineers. At the same time, the celebration of infrastructure may have amounted to little more than “700 intellectuals pray[ing] to an oil tanker,” as Bertolt Brecht cynically put it.

Ultimately, the aim of this lecture, in historicizing both infrastructure studies and the fascination with infrastructure, is to address a larger question: To what extent is cultural studies itself a form of infrastructure, an often inconspicuous but always vital means of connecting, and, even more importantly, maintaining the connections between different concerns?


Katharina Stornig (GCSC & FB04 Gießen)

Eye/Witnessing, Media and the Un/Making of Solidarity: Transnational Aid in the Nineteenth Century

11.07.2017, 18-20, room 001, MFR

Junior-Professorin für Kulturgeschichte, GCSC & FB04, JLU Gießen

Main Research Interests

  • Geschichte des Helfens und Philanthropie
  • Kindheit und Familie im 19. und 20. Jahrhundert
  • Katholizismus, Missionsbewegung, Vereinswesen


Publications (selected)

  • Figli della Chiesa. Riscatti e la globalizzazione del welfare cattolico, 1840–1914, In: Genesis. Rivista della Società Italiana delle Storiche XIV/1, 2015.
  • Sisters crossing Boundaries. German Missionary Nuns in colonial Togo and New Guinea, 1897–1960. Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht 2013.
  • Vielfache Bedeutungen. Missionsfotografie zwischen Neuguinea und Europa, 1899–ca. 1930, In: Österreichische Zeitschrift für Geschichtswissenschaften, 2013.



This talk discusses the un/making of transnational relationships of aid and solidarity in the long nineteenth century. Since the 1830s, growing groups of Europeans actively supported others, who lived in large geographic distance and who did not belong to the same social, religious or national community. This transnational expansion of aid was largely due to the activities of Christian institutions, which, inspired by European imperialism and the growing missionary venture, started to massively promote support for distant others in need. Acknowledging the great importance of institutions and media in this context, my talk particularly explores the ways in which mediated information and knowledge about geographically distant societies and “cultures” worked out in the creation of solidarity, human concern and connectedness. Thereby, I particularly ask when and how mediated knowledge became culturally validated and potentially triggered support for some groups, while it encouraged indifference or even hostility towards others. Introducing the notion and practice of eye/witnessing as a means to produce facts (or truth) about geographically distant lives and needs, my talk also aims to speak to current concerns in today’s society with regard to the status of facts and emotions in social and political discourse and action.