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 capitalism 

Fun in Postbellum American Culture

Postdoctoral Project by
Sophie Spieler

The United States can be described, without running the risk of controversy, as a nation that for the better part of the twentieth century has privileged, demanded, and celebrated ‘fun’ in its cultural self-performances. I want to propose, however, that the conditions for this triumphant proliferation of ‘fun’ were created during the last decades of the nineteenth century. The aim of this project, then, is to investigate the emergence of a culture of fun in Postbellum America, by examining nascent infrastructures and discourses of fun along with their larger implications for American self-conceptualizations during and after that period. My approach is grounded in discourse theory and aims at including a diverse range of sources, for instance memoirs and diaries, literary texts, newspaper articles and trade journals, and advertisements.

A number of factors shaped the institutionalization and solidification of fun as a cultural imperative and will thus serve as analytical axes of my inquiry: the emergence of industrial capitalism and the concomitant consolidation of a market-driven economy; the rise of a mass culture of consumers along with the technological innovations that enabled it; and the unprecedented levels of immigration that, in addition to the trauma of the Civil War, informed national anxieties as well as attempts to alleviate them by generating collective understandings of Americanness.

I assume that ‘fun’ is distinct from, though always related to, semantically similar concepts such as leisure, recreation, play, and entertainment. Contrasted alternately with boredom, seriousness, work, or compulsion, fun is a multidimensional category that can be conceptualized as a social and affective experience as well as a practice or performance. Fun can also, in some contexts, be understood as political action: a form of protest or resistance. Regardless of the specifics, fun is furthermore always embedded in and informed by social hierarchies and the opportunities and restrictions they create—what kind of fun is had, in which contexts, and with what consequences depends on the particularities of the gendered, racialized, and classed body that experiences it. In this multiplicity, fun offers a diverse and productive, yet nevertheless distinctive point of departure to engage with late-nineteenth century cultural history.

The Materialism of Crisis: Renegotiating Capitalism in the Transatlantic Space

Dissertation Project by
Eric W. Fraunholz

This study follows one basic question: How did the Great Recession influence the production of knowledge in the transatlantic space? Proceeding from the debates around Thomas Piketty's Capital in the 21st Century, the study retraces a transatlantic discourse after the Great Recession that sought to reconcile economic analysis with ongoing social and political debates. I am expecting to find that interest in a materialist interrelationship of capital and society can be identified as a recurring motif after economic crises. This motif I conceive of as the materialism of crisis.

The study focusses on the University of California, Berkeley's Center for Equitable Growth, the Haas School of Business, and the Goldman School of Public Policy in the US, and Max Planck Institute for the Study of Society, Cologne, in Germany whose work identifies the fundamental facts about social interaction in the organization of material forces. Their analyses revolve around notions of capital, inequality, class, and instability, challenging the economic and political orthodoxy. The protagonists produce relatively discernible intellectual output with transatlantic reach and intellectual focus on the interrelation of economic forces, society, and politics.

The influence of Keynesianism on transatlantic debates in the aftermath of the Great Depression will function as a comparative historical reference point and additionally accentuate the significance of economic crises in transatlantic intellectual history.

 

Racial Ambiguity and Racial Capital: Marketing the Postracial Melting Pot

The essay investigates how racialization is employed as a form of capital at a time when multiracial figures have taken center-stage in fashion magazines, films, and the music scene and are imbued in the media with utopian visions of a ‘postracial’ future. I argue that racial ambiguity is commercially exploited as a resource, both to commodify racialization and to make it appear structurally irrelevant at the same time.

Pisarz-Ramirez, Gabriele. “Racial Ambiguity and Racial Capital: Marketing the Postracial Melting Pot”. In Selling Ethnicity and Race. Consumerism and Representation in Twenty-First-Century America, eds. Gabriele Pisarz-Ramirez, Frank Usbeck, Anne Grob, and Maria Lippold (Trier: WVT, 2015): 99–116.

Selling Ethnicity and Race - Consumerism and Representation in Twenty-First-Century America

Pisarz-Ramirez, Gabrielle, Frank Usbeck, Anne Grob and Maria Lippold, eds. Selling Ethnicity and Race: Consumerism and Representation in Twenty-First-Century America. WVT Wissenschaftlicher Verlag: Trier. 2015. Print. Mosaic. Studien und Texte zur amerikanischen Kultur und Geschichte, Band 57.

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