Imagining climate change: The visual arts to the rescue?

Humanity has entered a new era, often labelled the Anthropocene – the human epoch. It poses a significant threat to the ecological integrity of the planet, particularly through human-caused climate change. The abstract and complex nature of climate change makes it a topic that is often framed and visualised in overly scientific and problem-focused ways. Ulrike Hahn’s research studies a promising alternative approach for imagining climate change from the contemporary visual arts.

Climate change and the visual arts

Scholars from the emerging and innovative field of the environmental humanities have started to investigate the role of the visual arts in the climate change debate. Hahn’s PhD research will extend this important work by inquiring how contemporary artists frame and represent the human-climate change relation and, moreover, how they can foster public engagement with climate change through their imaginations.

With this research, Hahn responds to the urgent calls for the further mobilisation of the humanities to find effective solutions for one of the biggest issues of our time.

Mediterranean Drifts: The Aesthetics and Politics of Contemporary Art in Greece in the Context of the ‘Refugee Crisis’

Anthi Argyriou | University of Amsterdam | | Supervisors: Maria Boletsi & Esther Peeren | 2018-2022

The proposed research project will focus on how artistic practices, exhibitions and cultural institutions have dealt with issues of migration in Greece from 2015 to 2018. In an attempt to respond to images and experiences of the ‘refugee crisis’ and their implications, individual artists, museums and cultural initiatives have renegotiated the concepts of dislocation, hospitality and agency in the framework of globalized (forced) displacement and socio-political upheaval. I will unfold these aesthetic and theoretical shifts by analyzing specific case studies and employing current concepts from cultural analysis, globalization and migration studies. In addition, I will study audiences’ reception of and involvement in the analyzed practices, exhibitions and institutional strategies in order to delineate the social and cultural impact of contemporary art in this context.


Lesbianism in China: Gender Images and Self-Identification as Reflected in Online Pop Culture

Wenxuan Peng, Lesbianism in China: Gender Images and Self-Identification as Reflected in Online Pop Culture
Supervisors: Eliza Steinbock and Maghiel van Crevel (Leiden University)

This proposed research will focus on digital culture and pop cultural representations regarding lesbianism within and without the ‘la quan’ (Chinese slang for “lesbian circle”) and the lala (abbreviation of the transliteration of ‘lesbian’ in Chinese) community, with special focus on the language and ideological negotiations emerging from the lala culture. My research will investigate how various types of pop cultural productions, such as films, videos, memes, novels, etc. make available and rework social gender images for the lesbians in China. I will track how gender and sexual ideologies are negotiated through the borrowing and remixing of heterosexual terms, gender roles and economic arrangements, and further, consider the broader influence of these cultural formations on the self-identification of the lala in China. Accordingly, I will analyse lesbian-related case studies of incidents, which are either sensational, or considered indicators of trends, as well as the users themselves and the texts, including speech and works of cultural production they create on the most influential websites and smart phone applications. During my study, I will be alert to current relevant activities on social media platforms that are popular in China such as Weibo, Baidu Tieba, WeChat Moments, Qzone, etc., as well as video sharing and livestreaming websites, for example Bilibili, Tik Tok (Douyin), Kuaishou. Cultural contents created on Chinese lesbian dating applications, such as Rela and Lesdo, especially the video / livestreaming sections, will also be studied.

Fathers of the Nation: White Masculinities and Fatherhood in Contemporary U.S.-American Television Series (2001-2015)

Sandra Becker, University of Groningen

Fathers of the Nation: White Masculinities and Fatherhood in Contemporary U.S.-American Television Series (2001-2015)

Supervisors: Prof. Dr. Michael Stewart Foley (Université Grenoble Alpes), Dr. Dan Hassler-Forest (Utrecht University), and Dr. Tim Jelfs (University of Groningen)


From Founding Fathers to Homeland Security and Daddy Trump – U.S. political discourses have a long tradition of relying on the rhetoric of family and family values. Early-2000s’ Quality TV drama series – the ‘pre-eminent narrative medium of our time’ (Dean J. DeFino) – have likewise been dominated by portrayals of families and their white patriarchs, whether they be serial killers (Dexter), meth-cooking teachers (Breaking Bad), firefighters (Rescue Me), zombie apocalypse survivors (The Walking Dead), Sixties sexuality researchers (Masters of Sex), or callboys (Hung).

Drawing upon Raymond Williams’ concept of the ‘structure of feeling,’ I argue in my dissertation project that these series operate and reflect on a similar affectively experienced cultural zeitgeist in the United States – which is at once characteristic of this troubled period marked by the gendered twin crises of 9/11 and the Great Recession, but also forms part of a continuing, cyclic nostalgic desire in times of change and uncertainty.

I hence read my corpus of series often labeled as ‘Quality TV’ or ‘Complex TV’ and the portrayal of their male lead protagonists against the backdrop of earlier moments of rupture and settlements in the history of the United States (and the Western world) and their manifestations in media discourses and cultural representations. This British Cultural Studies-based approach to history allows for reflecting upon and dismantling the well-established crisis discourses that surround both the medium television in the digital age and white masculinity in the twentieth and early twenty-first century.

Human Taxonomies: Knowing, Counting and Ordering the Spanish Americas (1790-1804)

Carlos E. Flores Terán, Human Taxonomies: Knowing, Counting and Ordering the Spanish Americas (1790-1804) | Supervisor: Prof. Dr. Hubertus Büschel and Dr. Xavier Guillaume

Recent scholarship suggests that the production of population knowledge throughout the late eighteenth and early nineteenth century can be read as a vehicle of (re)producing colonial/metropolitan orders. In such corpus, modalities of difference, such as race, are posited as technologies of governing and heuristic instrument in the colonies as well as in the metropolis This research aims at contributing to this scholarship by exploring the population categories used in the first population surveys in the Spanish Americas throughout the late eighteenth century and early nineteenth centuries. By way of researching an often overlooked space, this project is set to make two distinct contributions: 1) Presenting the emergence of a complex conflation between physical markers of difference and socio-political position, gender, and desired religious lineages before the emergence of race 2) Illustrating the distinct epistemological strategies, practices, and discourse employed by colonial administrators and cleric scientists in the effort of scientifically calculating and distinguishing between individuals in the the Spanish Americas.

This research will examine population categories used in the population surveys of the two largest  viceroyalties in the Spanish America: the New Spain and Peru. Such surveys begun 1790 in the New Spain, and in 1795 in Peru, and concluded in 1803 and 1803 respectively. In order to investigate the practices of counting, classifying, and distinguishing human bodies, this research draws from late-eighteenth century human taxonomies, categories in vital records, and visual representations of the “natural” body. From these sources, my intention is to highlight how the form in which European and American scientists, as well as colonial administrators, drew from an array of localized categorizations, known as castas, lineages and social structures in order to articulate and fix rational-scientific markers of difference. If once the grammars of difference was grounded in the demarcation between colonizers and colonized subjects, these surveys posited an unprecedented form of reading and organizing difference based in the marks of what is both observable–skin color socio-political position–and concealed–lineages and gender.