Memory and Materiality: Multisensory Ethnography of Culturally Diverse Urban Settings

Elisa Fiore | Radboud University Nijmegen | Memory and Materiality: Multisensory Ethnography of Culturally Diverse Urban Settings | Supervisors: Anneke Smelik, Liedeke Plate

My PhD research develops a multisensory ethnography of gentrifying multicultural urban settings to investigate how gentrification contributes to the inclusion or exclusion of certain cultural expressions in those areas. The two selected neighbourhoods where I will be working are Amsterdam’s Indische Buurt and Rome’s Tor Pignattara, two multicultural urban areas that recently gained the reputation of “failed” neighbourhoods in need of physical, commercial and demographic restructuration.

The theoretical framework is located at the intersection of sensory studies and feminist new materialism, and inaugurates a new interdisciplinary field that privileges multisensory experience as a means to capture the nuances of social formations. Methodologically, my research proposes a mixed-method approach consisting of walking ethnography, participant observation, and unstructured mobile interviews. The theoretical-methodological approach allows for the simultaneous exploration of micro- and macro dimensions of identity and appreciates the ways in which historical processes contribute to existing social formations, with particular attention to race and class inflections.

My research encourages the development of inclusive regenerated urban environments that retain the diversity of the sensorium and acknowledge the contribution of minorities in the restructuring of the urban space.

Sublime Imperfections: Post-Soviet Trash Aesthetics

Fabienne Rachmadiev | University of Amsterdam | Sublime Imperfections: Post-Soviet Trash Aesthetics | Supervisors: Ellen Rutten, Joost de Bloois

The purpose of this research is twofold: to provide an analysis of influential cultural objects in post- Soviet Russia through a theory of ‘imperfection’, from the perspective of the maker, i.e. why choose imperfection as an aesthetic strategy?, and by studying the cultural, social, economic and political effects of employing such a strategy. At the same time this particular case-study of a geographical region (Russia and other post-Soviet states) and timeframe (post-1989- now) aims to contribute to a larger theory of imperfection as a tool for a better understanding of social, cultural and economic processes in times of uncertainty, upheaval and change.

Dutch Design, Glitches, Misfits: Why Western Europeans Crave the Imperfect

Jakko Kemper | University of Amsterdam | Dutch Design, Glitches, Misfits: Why Western Europeans Crave the Imperfect | Supervisors: Ellen Rutten, Marie-Aude Baronian

Today’s world is marked by a complex intermingling of digital information technologies, neoliberal capitalism and precarious modes of living (see e.g. Bardot & Laval 2013, Berlin 2011, Liu 2004). In relation to these phenomena, we can discern the upsurge of a post-digital culture that recognizes and accepts digital technologies as an integral part of everyday life yet also struggles to formulate new strategies for cultivating authentic and meaningful experiences within the deluges of pure data that define our world (Lund 2015). This has led to a variety of cross-disciplinary practices that aim to (re)insert a human element into the datascape (see e.g. Openshaw 2015). One of these practices entails a nourishing of objects that are subject to error, decay, contingency and dilapidation; objects, in short, that demonstrate a degree of imperfection. This research wants to read this recent interest in an aesthetics or a logic of imperfection among cultural creatives and consumers in relation to the rise of this post-digital culture. Moreover, it aims to understand these imperfections as engaging with the experience of the sublime — i.e. the affective registers triggered in awe of the rugged, the ruined or the ungraspable (Burke 1998). The core of the dissertation is structured around the case study of Dutch design and around a close reading of a transdisciplinary selection of five Dutch cultural objects in which imperfection plays a pivotal role. In individual chapters, the particular modulations of (sublime) imperfection embodied in the objects are explored. In doing so, the research aims to situate the contemporary fixation with imperfection as embedded in the gestation of a post-digital culture. These sublime imperfections are thus understood as existing in tension with trends of digitization, socio-economic crisis and ecological impairment. Furthermore, the project seeks to map the cultural, social and economic interventions that these sublime imperfections can facilitate.

The Representations of Sexuality in Contemporary Chinese Cinema

Jiyu Zhang | The Representations of Sexuality in Contemporary Chinese Cinema | Supervisor: Prof. dr Ernst van Alphen

As a PhD researcher in film and literary studies at Leiden University, I have proceeded my research project since September 2015, currently entitled The Representations of Sexuality in Contemporary Chinese Cinema. Hereby I would like to provide a concise description based on the progress I have made.

The concepts of sex in China, were not never troubled terms. In Chinese classical scripts it was revealed that sexual life was not deemed resentful or vexing, but rather regarded compulsive in a nourishing manner. As a healthy practice in line with human nature, sexual life in ancient China was rendered in favor in the midst of populace and monarch through succeeding dynasties. Since the increased entanglement of ideological control deprived from Confucianism, sex was dispensed with moral laxity in social environment, barely leaving discussions in the realm of feudal empires.

Nevertheless, the culture of sex had sought its way through a variety of media, including literature and graphic arts, to convey the notions of sexuality to individuals, against the constraints of power. As arrived the cinema, the newly charted dimension effectively conferred an alternative domain to the discourses and representations which could be cemented to sexuality in a modern state. With the founding of the People’s Republic of China, however, sexuality and its representations were barred from explicit depictions, and not to be slightly thawed until the end of the Cultural Revolution.

Focused on the contemporary period of China, it has hence entailed my research to examine the cultural logic that spurred the governance of representations, and to investigate the dynamics of power, body and sexuality within the boundaries of cinema. This project aims to unveil the displays of sexuality under specific circumstances, with interpretations of expressive strands where analyses into conflicted relations between ideology and subject will be purveyed.

Through an intensive gaze upon the norm and the nature of the bodily scenes, I aspire to speculate the way that how sexuality is manifested via the cinematic strategy and the cultural logic, which has been incontestably constituted by western theories that would be aligned with and also testified in the context of the ‘Chineseness’.

Globalization, charity fundraising and mediated suffering

Wouter Oomen | Utrecht University| supervisors: Sandra Ponzanesi & Markus Stauff

Contemporary images used in charity fundraising aimed at the abolition of poverty are ingrained with a notion of a ‘common, global humanity’ (Boltanski 1999). This assumed shared base can be thought of in terms of shared values (Njoh 2006), universal human rights (Sliwinski 2009), basic human emotions or collective responsibilities (Illouz 2003). Fundraising, in short, visualizes globalization by targeting the idea of a shared human experience. This project revolves around the question how such a specific notion of a globalized world is imagined in fundraising. For this, long-term promotional activities, broadcasting events and social media campaigns will be addressed – media texts that present us with the visual culture of suffering and relief, and with narratives on grief and optimism. The project thereby aims to address imagined global unity in the face of structural inequality, in order to trace how charity fundraising proposes the idea of a common humanity.