Department of Humanities and Social Sciences

Indian Institute of Technology Ropar

HSS Seminar

‘Screening Poverty’


Prof. Sieglinde Lemke

February 8th,, 3:00 PM

Venue:  Lecture Hall 2


“Precarity is everywhere,” Pierre Bourdieu announced two decades ago. His declaration triggered an academic discourse that has spread across disciplines and nations. This talk builds on the social scientific research to explore visual representations of poverty that attracted a mass audience. No longer invisible, visual and literary representations of class and precarity are accruing significant media attention. Danny Boyle’s Oscar-winning Hollywood film Slumdog Millionaire (2008) for example presents the underclass in a sentimental mode. It's narrative frame foregrounds the universal tale of love endowing the dispossessed with humanity and wit. Whereas Slumdog Millionaire sugarcoats the horrendous conditions global capitalism imposes on today’s precariat, Hunger Games provokes memories of past horrors in order to draw attention to precarity. This film analysis aims to contribute to the emergent academic field that explores the socio-economic and psychological effects neoliberal governance exerts on the precarious class. The talk introduces Precarity Studies’ theoretical framework, which builds on Pierre Bourdieu’s foundational study La Misère du Monde (1993) and Judith Butler’s meditation

on Levinasian ethics Precarious Life (2004), but has grown into a transdisciplinary field. Amongst other disciplines, it incorporates the Political Sciences (Isabelle Lorey, 2015), Postcolonial and Cultural Studies (Simon During, 2015). My talk brings this critical discourse to bear on Visual Studies, offering insights into the politics of representation that shape how precarity is constructed so that we have come to take mass exploitation for granted.


About the speaker:

Sieglinde Lemke is a senior professor of Cultural Studies at the English Department of the Albert- Ludwigs-University Freiburg. She is the author of Poverty, Inequality, and Precarity in Contemporary American Culture (Palgrave McMillan, 2017) (review ALH), Vernacular Matters in American Literature (Palgrave, 2009) and Primitivist Modernism: Black Culture and the Origins of Transatlantic Modernism (Oxford UP, 1998). She is also the co-editor of the volume Class Divisions in Serial Television (Palgrave, 2017). Prof. Lemke had studied at the University of Konstanz, Germany and at UC Berkeley, taught at the Free University in Berlin and at Harvard University.