PhD Work in Progress

Date: Friday, June 9
Time: 14:00-17:30, followed by drinks
Place: University of Amsterdam, Humanities Faculty, Bushuis (Kloveniersburgwal 48), room F0.21

In preparation of drinks and fingerfood, NICA PhDs Thijs Witty, Olga Krasa-Ryabets, Jan Overwijk, Florian Goettke, and Sandra Becker present work in progress. Yolande Jansen and Murat Aydemir reflect on Cultural Studies ‘now.’ Everyone is invited.



Thijs Witty
PhD project: Essayism at the Dusk of Catastrophe: Limit Experience, Subjectivity, Form
Title: [draft] “Yvonne Rainer’s Immanence”

I would like to share a first draft of my dissertation coda about the American choreographer and filmmaker Yvonne Rainer.
In the early 1970s Yvonne Rainer resolved an intense intellectual crisis by turning away from minimalist, collaborative group choreography and towards essayistic film making. This shift has been widely discussed in academic and artistic circles, as well as by Rainer herself, but little has been made of the particular novelties and resolutions that this transition of medium made possible. Questions Rainer had struggled with include: How to acknowledge increasingly complex social realities with minimalistically choreographed bodies? How to be responsible if leadership has imploded in most of my artistic surroundings? And how to destroy the privileges that have brought me here by keeping others out?
If Rainer turned to essay films as a response to these questions, I want to know if and how she thereby resolved them. The coda is basically a final case study, neither conclusive nor meant to neatly exemplify the arguments that have preceded it. It should instead become a demonstration in miniature of how my basic argument both works and falters.
Over the past three years I have studied a variety of essayists and essayistic motivations. I was specifically interested in the way essay writers reflect on the compositional efficacy of their chosen genre. The main thesis I have been testing is that essayistic composition allows for precision in areas of human experience that cannot be measured by more conventional means, such as scientific method or reportorial objectivity. I have defined these experiences in terms of crisis: troubling states that require the invention of new measures in order to be surpassed.

Sandra Becker
PhD Project: Fathers of the Nation: White Masculinities and Fatherhood in Contemporary US-American TV Series (2001-2015)

I would like to take the chance to present the introduction to my PhD thesis on “Fathers of the Nation: White Masculinities and Fatherhood in Contemporary U.S.-American TV Series (2001-2015)”.
Until now, I have already written four draft versions, yet, I am not happy with any of them. Although I have been told various times that an introduction should be written when finishing the book, my thoughts always revolve around the question of how I can create an overarching narration that links the different chapters and would thus also help me to get a clearer idea of where the project is going.
Hence, instead of considering my project’s relation to Cultural Studies, I would like to discuss with the others already made choices and remaining uncertainties in the latest version of my introduction.

Olga Krasa-Ryabets
PhD Project: Secret Theatre: Off-the-grid Performance Practices in Socialist Poland and Czechoslovakia

Jan Overwijk
PhD project: Post-rationalisation: Openness in Contemporary Social Organisation
Title of work-in-progress: Retrieving the Critical in Niklas Luhmann’s Systems Theory

In this presentation, I would like to discuss my attempt to bring together two persuasions in social philosophy that are usually seen as mutually exclusive: critical theory and Niklas Luhmann’s systems theory.
Niklas Luhmann was a German sociologists who developed a theory of society on the basis of a notion of complex, open systems. For Luhmann, modern society is differentiated into a plurality of incommensurable function systems, like science, politics, law, the economy, and so on. Luhmann views critical theory as misguided, even childish and ‘simply embarrassing’. This is so mainly for two reasons. Firstly, Luhmann denies a phenomenon central to critical theory: the domination of economic rationality in society. For Luhmann, all social subsystems are equal and none of them can dominate others. Secondly, systems theory disallows for any normative-emancipatory claims regarding the social world because, according to Luhmann, the good and the true belong to different systems (politics and science). Luhmann thus rejects the notion that social critique could sensibly take place within sociology.
I argue that on both accounts, Luhmann makes the same logical error: a non-sequitur. From the formal equality of the various function systems, he infers that no system can take on dominance within the ecosystem of systems (‘ecological dominance’); from the formal equality of perspectives in the social world, he infers that no perspective can be dominant and, consequently, no perspective can be critical.

Florian Goettke
PhD project: Burning Images: Performing Effigies as Political Protests

The title of my PhD is “Burning Images – performing effigies as political protest”, and I am in the last phase of my trajectory, trying to finish the writing until the end of the year.
I would like to give first an overview over my complete dissertation with a short description of each chapter. Chapter 3 provides a general description of the practice to burn or hang effigies in political protests in relation to performance. In Chapters 4 and 5, I develop in two case studies the genealogy of the practice in the United States in relation to power and resistance, and the Middle East in relation to cross-cultural communication. Chapter 6 relates the effigies to images of sovereign power. In Chapter 7, I discuss the operations of resemblance and the grotesque in relation to truth.
Following, I would like to present and discuss a first draft of my last chapter, where I try to tie together the strands I opened in the previous chapters. I will relate the grotesque aesthetics of the performances to laughter and violence and propose that the employment of this archaic image practice could hint to the edges and failures of democratic systems of governance.

Yolande Jansen is senior researcher and lecturer at the Amsterdam Centre for Globalization Studies and the department of philosophy of the UvA. Since September 2012, Yolande is also Special Professor for the Socrates-foundation at VU University, where she holds the chair for ‘humanism in relation to religion and secularity’.

Murat Aydemir is associate professor in Literary and Cultural Analysis and director of NICA.