Event series »Commodity aesthetics. New perspectives on consumption, culture and art«
June 2010−December 2010
Commodity aesthetics, the gleaming, enticing surfaces of purchasable goods, has long been understood as constituting a significant force within the framework of a strategy of manipulation dedicated to systematically turning customers’ heads, to seducing them. The psychological, social and ecological consequences of this strategy have been a focus of a good deal of critical consumer research. In recent years, the extension, variegation and revision of established critical perspectives on capitalism and consumer society have also seen scholars turn their attention to the productive aspects of modern mass consumption.
Wolfgang Ullrich, born 1967, is Professor of Fine Arts and Media Theory at the Karlsruhe University of Arts and Design. In 2007 he published his seminal study Habenwollen. Wie funktioniert die Konsumkultur? (»Gotta have it. How does consumer culture work?«). Ullrich is particularly interested in the aesthetic potentials inherent in consumer culture and often focuses on what at first sight seem to be rather unspectacular subjects such as shower gel.
In his lecture at the Institute for Advanced Studies in the Humanities, Wolfgang Ullrich will be exploring the question of the extent to which consumption can be also be understood as a creative act shaped by fictional moments within a culture that, for all its problematic aspects, has long ceased to see itself exclusively in terms of parameters such as economy, durability or deferred needs. In this context, Ullrich will look at the way emotions involved in the purchasing act can be modeled as a basis for a critique of conventional marketing strategies, which as a rule are content to reflect existing needs rather than approach them creatively, i.e. in a way that is consciously and prudently formative.
The lecture and seminar will be held in German.
Daniel Miller, born 1954, is Professor of Anthropology and Material Culture at University College London. He has been researching the phenomenon of consumption and its material culture for more than twenty years. His major works include A Theory of Shopping (1998) and The Dialectics of Shopping (2001). One of his latest books, The Comfort of Things (2008), will be published in German (»Der Trost der Dinge«) in fall 2010.
Miller views commodities as objects, however banal they may appear, from the perspective of an ethnologist. His approach entails engaging with the strangeness of everyday life and its practical processes in order to resist hasty schematization and to take account of the innumerable forces that are involved in our interaction with material objects and that even produce us as individuals. His studies often focus on quite concrete phenomena such as cars, mobile phones, Coca-Cola and―as in his lecture at the Institute for Advanced Studies in the Humanities―blue jeans. In Miller’s view jeans constitute an object that need to be perceived from an ethnologically differentiated point of view as loaded with very different meanings across a range of local cultures. On the other hand, there is no doubting the fact that jeans also need to be understood as a truly universal article of clothing: as Global Denim, to use the title of Miller’s new study, which is due out in the fall.
The lecture and seminar will be held in English.
Eva Illouz, born 1961, is Professor of Sociology at the Hebrew University Jerusalem. One of her major areas of research is the transformation of emotionality under the influence of capitalism, consumption and commodification. Her seminal study Consuming the Romantic Utopia (1997) demonstrates the interwovenness of emotional culture and the market and has been described by the German Weekly Die Zeit as a sociological classic. In 2001 she gave the Adorno Lectures at Frankfurt’s Goethe University on The Culture of Capitalism.
In her lecture at the Institute for Advanced Studies in the Humanities, Illouz will be presenting a new study in which she traces the singular dynamics of consumer culture back to a complex interplay consisting of emotions (understood as a »sociological centaur« equipped with elements that, although fleeting, act to stabilize identity) and imaginations (understood as the »socially situated deployment of cultural fantasies.«)
The lecture and seminar will be held in English.
Thomas Wegmann, born 1962, works as Associate Professor of German Literature and Literary Theory at Berlin’s Humboldt University and is a renowned scholar of the interface between literature and economics. He has published two major studies on this subject: Tauschverhältnisse. Zur Ökonomie des Literarischen und zum Ökonomischen in der Literatur von Gellert bis Goethe (»Exchange Relations: On the economics of the literary and economic aspects in literature from Gellert to Goethe«) in which he explores the interwovenness of literature and economics with reference to the literature of the eighteenth century, and Dichtung und Warenzeichen: Zur Beobachtung und Bearbeitung von Reklame im literarischen Feld 1850 – 2000 (»Poetry and Trademarks: On the perception and treatment of advertising in the literary sphere, 1850–2000«) in which he examines the significance of the expansion of advertising culture following the Industrial Revolution for forms of literary representation.
In his lecture at the Institute for Advanced Studies in the Humanities he proceeds from the premise that acts of consumption represent complex processes in which promise and desire, presence and absence, real and imaginary are superimposed onto one another. Since 1850, when Gustave Flaubert created in Madame Bovary what is perhaps Europe’s most notorious consumer, literature has exhibited an interest in the narrative and reflective potential of consumption and the question of its emotional, social and economic components.
The lecture and seminar will be held in German.Press
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