Ongoing projects

  • Ulrike Brunotte
  • Maaike Meijer
  • Louis van den Hengel
  • Aagje Swinnen
  • Lies Wesseling

Ulrike Brunotte

Dämonen des Wissens: Studien zu Jane E. Harrison (1850-1928)
The Knowledge of the demons: Studies in the Work of Jane E. Harrison

The project takes its lead from Edward Said’s Orientalism, Martin Bernal’s Black Athena (1987/1991/2001) and David Chidester’s Savage Systems (1997), that  inquire into the interrelationships between the formation of scientific knowledge, religious practices and colonial or Eurocentric power-relations.
Jane Harrison was one of the first women to lecture on the Greek classics and Archaeology at the university level. She was not only a pioneer in ritual studies, but she also inaugurated a highly innovative turn from ‚text’ and ‚scripture’ to ‚image’ and ‚ritual’ in the scholarly investigation of Greek religion. This project delineates the revolutionary impact of this scholar on the field of religion studies, as Harris was the first to address issues of femininity and masculinity in the religions of classical antiquity.  Harrison paid ample attention to the “Dionysian’ side of Greek Antiquity, while uncovering female appropriations of the dark and irrational forms of the divine. Harrison dwelt at length on the demons and hybrid figures of the underworld, who were often mixtures of animals and women, giving a voice to the subaltern groups in ancient society. Her comparative religion studies focused on ancient visual and material cultures and on initiation rituals, with a special interest in women’s rituals. Her scholarly interest in Dionysion ritual and dance coincided with feminist appropriations of Antiquity in the modern era. She functioned  as a mediator between the intellectual elite of Cambridge university and the artistic elite of the metropolis (the Bloomsbury Circle, New dance, the New theatre movement, and the Suffrage movement).
This project combines perspectives from cultural studies, gender studies and religion studies, in a concerted effort to comprehend the entangled histories of the suffrage movement, the goddess movement and the artistic avant-gardes around 1900. 
The monograph on Jane E. Harrison will be combined with an edition of  selected works of Jane E. Harrison.

The Death of an Undead Character: Heroes in a Post-heroic Time (Forthcoming new project)

With the re-entry of politically assertive religions into the public sphere, the persona of the hero has returned as well in the guise of the ‘martyr’. Strikingly, religiously charged gender codes prevail in the discourses of both Western political scientists writing on ‘heroic’ and ‘post-heroic’ societies, ànd Islamic critics of Western modernity such as Sayyid Qutb. The latter view ‘the West’ as a  decadent world of Jahiliyya – a pre-islamic concept of chaos and sin that is associated with the figure of the unveiled woman. This concept was also cherished by the European, anti-modern, nationalist movements of the early twenties, such as the German Conservative revolution, represented by, amongst others,  Ernst Jünger. These groups typically condemned the pluralistic capitalist societies of their time in misogynist terms. Thus, Jünger portrayed the First World War as a utopian foreshadowing of a new, reinvigorated masculinity.

The persona of the martyr that has returned to center stage, is deeply rooted in both Christian and Islamic religious traditions. According to Albrecht Koschorke, one can understand the figure of Christ, “as an archetype of an ever-renewable model of messianic masculinity” (Koschorke 2003: 320). Discourses on the courage, pain and death of heroes sacralises masculinity, because “…through redeemer figures hegemonic masculinity is narratively produced and becomes a part of the symbolic order as a Utopian icon” (Glawion: 2007: 14). 
The project will analyze the survival, deconstruction and transformations of the concept of the “hero” in contemporary cultural narrative artifacts.

Maaike Meijer

Cultural Studies in Masculinity (1950-2010)
Taking its lead from the theoretical writings by Monique Wittig and Judith Butlers, this project envisages a monograph on contemporary representations of masculinity in relation to the functions they fullfill within the context in which they are produced and received.  It analyzes configurations of masculinity in Dutch culture – such as songs by subcultural icons from the sixties, like Jaap Fischer and Boudewijn de Groot, short stories by Jan Wolkers and the novel De donkere kamer van Damocles by W.F. Hermans. New interpretations of films of international renown include Casablanca by Michael Curtiz, One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest by Milos Forman, Vertigo by Hitchkock, and the German television series Derrick. The cultural repertoire of masculinity can be accessed by all humans, of whatever sex and gender. Thus, masculinity in ‘women’ will be a focal point in this book, in chapter such as ‘The Mighty Thighs of Sjoukje Dijkstra’ and ‘Long Live Penis Envy. Masculinity complexes in lesbians and other human beings’.  
The Lyrical “I’ in Poetry and Song
This project aims to assess the various attempts to formulate a general theory of the lyrical mode, and to contribute to the further development of a theory of the lyrical by taking sons into full account. The project consists of a series of separately published essays, to be integrated into a book (monograph). 
Literary theory has been preoccupied with the vexed question of genre for a long time. By now, the contours and borders of dramatic and narra¬tive texts have been convincingly drawn. Generally accepted theories of drama and narrative are available, but this does not apply to poetry. Consistent theories of the lyrical are rare, while the few we do have at our disposal tend to regress to an outdated structuralist essentialism. 
Lyrical texts are usually defined in terms of textual properties such as rhyme, rhythm, stanzaic structure or the presence of rhetorical ornament. These textual features, however, do not suffice for defining the lyrical mode. Some poems do not exhibit them, while narrative or dramatic texts do, at times. Little attention has been paid to the poetic communication-situation in which the lyrical 'I' speaks with his/her back to the reader, who eavesdrops on the solitary speaker, as it were. This aspect deserves further consideration. Does the lyrical genre thus defined only pertain to the texts labelled 'poetry' in Western high culture since Romanticism? How far back in time can such a theory take us? Would it also apply to black poetry? How universal could it be?         
The second question addressed by this project is what kind of cultural, social and psychological functions the lyrical mode fulfills. Poetry seems to be the genre which explores and exposes inner movements of diffe¬rent kinds. Poetry seems to provide specific models for the cultivation of the self, hence aspects of gender, age, and ethnicity are bound to be relevant here. Many literary gender studies have analyzed the construction of male subjectivity and female object-positions through narrative. In this respect it is very intriguing that poetry often provides narrative-free texts. How is gender constructed in such a linguistic space – if at all? The lyrical 'I' does not have to be - and often is not - gendered. How do male and female poets deal with these possibilities of the lyrical mode? Do they cherish and profit from this gender-neutral space, or do they infuse it with gender, how, and for what purposes?

Louis van den Hengel

Performance Studies
My current research examines the role of affect in performance art, and focuses on art performances that take the human body as their primary subject, object, and medium. I approach the artist’s performing body not only as a site where gender, race, and sexuality are enacted, but also as a medium that produces the affective transformations or ‘becomings’ that constitute the mediality of performance as a time-based art form. Starting from the assumption that performance art requires a profound reconsideration of traditional aesthetic theories, this research seeks to analyze the affective force of performance as a live event that involves its participants directly on sensorial, corporeal, and emotional levels. Methodologically, it combines participatory fieldwork with a theoretical analysis informed by the philosophy of Gilles Deleuze and its reception within contemporary cultural and feminist theory. Special attention is directed to the work of feminist body artist Gina Pane (1939-1990) and to the work of Marina Abramović, who has pioneered performance as a visual art form from the 1970s onwards.

In addition, my current research interests include contemporary bioart, which uses advanced biotechnologies such as genetic engineering and cell and tissue culture as creative tools, and whose primary medium is living matter in all its human and nonhuman diversity. Since discourses on life are never ‘neutral’ but deeply embedded in gendered and racialized webs of knowledge and power, a feminist interrogation of bioart is vitally important for any critical understanding of this art form. I am particularly interested, however, in exploring the potential role of bioart itself to contribute to the development of a critical feminist perspective on bioethics. Drawing on various theories of life from the perspective of philosophical posthumanism and feminist new materialism – most notably the work of Rosi Braidotti and Donna Haraway – I aim to re-conceptualize the vitality of contemporary bioart, and its implications for bioethics, beyond the framework of the human organism.

Aagje Swinnen

The first issue of Age, Culture, Humanities is available online! Visit:
Age, Culture, Humanities promotes cross-disciplinary, critical investigations of the experiences of age, aging, and old age, as seen through the lens of the humanities and arts. The goals are to consider age as a category of identity, advance understanding of the aging process and of age differences across the lifespan, interrogate cultural articulations of aging and old age, and generate innovative, engaging scholarly approaches to the study of age and aging in the humanities.
The journal, published by the Athenaeum Press of Coastal Carolina University, is affiliated with the North American Network in Aging Studies (NANAS) and the European Network in Aging Studies (ENAS). Editors are Cynthia Port (Coastal Carolina University) and Aagje Swinnen (Maastricht University).

Live to Be a Hundred: Cultural Narratives of Longevity (CGD, Maastricht University)
The term longevity refers to lives that last significantly longer than is expected. Sometimes it is equated with the increase of the life expectancy of humans. As such, longevity has been the focus of political criticism and policy-making in the West (whose population increasingly grows older), and the object of study in many academic disciplines, ranging from biotechnology and health sciences to cultural history and the philosophy of ideas. Literature and art theorists as well as specialists in media and film studies, however, have been relatively silent on the topic. When representations of old age are studied, attention is mostly drawn to the stage of third age, or the group of healthy, active elderly. Fourth age, or the lives of the oldest elderly, has attracted limited research interest. Therefore, this project, for the first time, brings leading literature, art, media, and film scholars from Western Europe and North America together to study cultural narratives of longevity. Their collaboration facilitates the further establishment of the field of aging studies from a humanities' perspective, based on a methodology developed from comparative cultural studies, narrative theory, and critical gerontology.
This project does not start from the master narrative of decline that the last stage of life is often identified with, but from the fascination that (super)centenarians bring about. As opposed to the fear of growing old and being old, living to be a hundred or even older is generally considered to be a landmark to register and celebrate. Specific themes of research have been defined along three lines, which are imagining, remembering and mediating longevity. First, the project studies how narratives about exceptional and improbable human longevity (the so-called genre of longevity stories) are told and retold at different times and in different media. Second, the project contributes to the understanding of how the encounter with (super)centenarians as living witnesses of the past century inspires contemporary artists to creative practices of commemoration. Third, the project aims to critically adjust concepts of late style by means of the analysis of the work of (super)centenarian artists.
This project secured funding from NWO (Program: Internationalization in the Humanities)

Beyond Autonomy and Language – Towards a Disability Studies’ Perspective on Dementia (CGD, Maastricht University)
The two year research project “Beyond Autonomy and Language” aims to contribute to the development of a disability studies’ perspective on dementia. It seeks to provide a theoretical basis to contemporary thinking about participatory citizenship of people with dementia. It focuses on societal practices and discourses that seek to engage the ‘voice’ and articulate the subjectivity of people with dementia. The project combines empirical research of these practices and discourses with philosophical reflection on the presuppositions and consequences of these approaches for the conceptualization of the subject. The larger project includes four case studies: representations subject-with-dementia in film and literature (Aagje Swinnen); articulation of the subject-with-dementia in clowning (Ruud Hendriks); mediation of the subject-with-dementia in assistive technology (Ike Kamphof); expression of subject-with-dementia in artistic practice (Annette Hendrikx). 
Keeping disability studies’ adage “nothing about us, without us” in mind, the project reflects on (im)possibilities to incorporate the experiences of people with dementia in health care research (including our own!) and/or services. Articulating and listening to the voice of people with dementia themselves is inherently problematic, because dementia concerns an impairment of the ability to form and express thoughts and opinions. This project is thus especially interested in innovative efforts to engage with the ‘silent’ perspectives of people with dementia, often in combination with input of others who speak on behalf of people with dementia (health care professionals, family, designers, artists, et cetera).
This project secured funding from ZonMw (Program: Disability Studies in the Netherlands).

Lies Wesseling

Emergent Cultural Literacy: Assimilating Children’s Literature
This project develops evidence-based criteria for selecting picture books that induce the emergence of cultural literacy in the very young. It pays due attention to the fact that text appropriation obeys a different logic in four- to eight-year-olds than in older readers. Rather than investigating the new work in the light of familiar works, young children assimilate texts by doing things with them such as singing, dancing, or engaging in symbolic action and play. Texts will be more effectively assimilated if they can be embedded within regularly recurrent routines and cultural or religious celebrations. The pragmatic contexts of routines and rituals within which children make their first acquaintance with crucial texts spark off the process of cultural socialization in the very young. These contexts have become multi-cultural and multi-religious in contemporary globalizing society, which places new demands on the nature of cultural literacy. Assimilation is further enhanced by certain (inter) textual features that evoke these contexts on the one hand while chiming in with the developmental features of the intended audience on the other. These three shaping factors set us on the track of specific criteria of ‘canonicity’, i.e. the potential to become lastingly popular. 
This program wants to specify, implement and validate these crucial features of canonicity, in order to gain closer insight into the assimilation of children’s literature. It comprises three projects dealing with morality and religion, poetry, and narrative texts respectively. These projects operate within a joint intervention program that introduces a preliminary selection of texts into the first grades of primary school. As emergent cultural literacy is governed by pragmatic, literary and developmental factors, it can only be adequately investigated through methods deriving from the humanities and the social sciences. Hence, this program combines tools for hermeneutic validation with methods for experimental validation.
This project is funded by a competitive research grant from NWO, National Endowment for the Humanities

Towards a Platform for a Cultural History of Children’s Media (PLACIM)
This project works towards establishing an international platform for exchange between children’s literature scholars and media studies experts. This Platform for the Cultural History of Children’s Media (PLACIM) will initiate, develop and coordinate funding proposals for national and European granting agencies, beginning with a EUROCORES Theme Proposal for a European Collaborative Research Program in 2014. PLACIM aims to construct methodological tools for coming to terms with the ways in which childhood images circulate between media through time. We will prepare the ground for the installment of PLACIM through a series of three workshops and two joint publications.
This project is funded by a competitive research grant from N W O, National Endowment for the Humanities

Stories we adopt by: Narrative Strategies for the Kinning of Foreigners in European Global Adoption (1953-2010)
Global adoption (GA) has been the subject of diverse controversies over the past sixty years. The first wave, dominated by adoptions from South-Korea (1953-1980), was up against science-based ‘psy-experts’ who only condoned domestic adoptions by insisting on maximal physical, psychological, economic, and religious resemblance between adopters and adoptees. The second wave, dominated by adoptions from China (1990-..), has to overcome moral resistance that derives from repeated exposures of the blurry boundary between legal and illegal practices, while the humanitarian defense of GA as a means of saving lost children is eroding. Contemporary GA stands in need of new apologies in the face of a growing discrepancy between the rising demand for adoptees caused by delayed parenthood and a concomitant decline of fertility in the West and an increasing shortage of adoptable children resulting from the increasingly restrictive adoption policies of China and Russia. apologies for GA are primarily forged through stories that feed on deeply ingrained cultural schemata, rather than through explicit argumentation. Consequently, stakeholders are insufficiently aware of the norms and values governing the transfers of children from developing regions to wealthy Western couples, wrongly assuming that their own conceptions are universal and hence in line with the family values of the donor countries. In order to explicate the largely implicit meanings of family, gender, ethnicity, and nationality at stake, this program analyzes narrative strategies for transforming foreigners into family-members (‘kinning’) within European receiving countries, making them amenable to moral reflection.