The Politics of Beauty: Discourses and Intersections in the Global Sphere

Published on 25 April 2016 par Equipe GIS IdG

The Politics of Beauty: Discourses and Intersections in the Global Sphere

For millennia, beauty has been a subject of fascination for scholarly research, mainly within the humanities. While literature, film, and art have made constant critical contributions to debates about beauty, the social sciences have been latecomers. Only recently have they established a rich body of critique about the different ways in which discourses of beauty operate in the social world, and how they reveal the workings of dominant ideologies of gender, race, sexuality, and globality. However, the specificity of beauty, particularly in relation to the global sphere and neoliberalism, keeps generating new pressing questions. This summer school aims to offer a space for rigorous interdisciplinary dialogue between the humanities and the social sciences to push debates on beauty further and go beyond the mere pursuing of definitions, towards the exploration of processes and practices, that is, the doing of beauty and the politics it entails. Attentive to the ever-evolving meanings and doings of beauty on their journeys through different historic-cultural traditions, conceptual frames, intersections and geographic locales, one overarching goal of this summer school is to theorise beauty as a “travelling concept“ (Mieke Bal, 2002). We thus invite scholars to engage with the politics of beauty and their ramifications. How does beauty travel? What kinds of beauty discourses are created and transmitted in such journeys? How are the politics of beauty reconfigured both through its travels and its locatedness? When do they matter and to what effect and extent?

Since the 1970s social movements have been stimulating a wealth of studies on beauty as a racist, classist, ableist, colorist, lookist, sizeist, ageist, and (cis and hetero)sexist regime of representation. Recent research has focused on beauty as a practice or rather as incessant “body work” in neoliberal times – working out, body-building, make-overs, cosmetic surgery, shopping, dieting, etc. –, and its oppressive, discriminatory effects. Despite this invaluable work in describing and analysing such practices, some pertinent questions remain opaque and understudied. How does beauty culture (re)produce and/or stand in tension to discourses of gender, class, race, ethnicity, skin colour, and colonialism? How is beauty productive? What does it produce? What are people’s affective, social, economic, and global investments in beauty? Why does the desire to prescribe beauty standards persist? How to analytically grasp the pleasure of doing body work? Crucially, “how is beauty defined, deployed, defended, subordinated, marked or manipulated” (Colebrook, 2006: 132). What different media strategies are used to programmatically present, transmit and disperse beauty concepts? What is beauty doing in helping us understand lived experience and temporalities, language and representation, media images, and physicality? In other words, how to grasp the politics of beauty as forming intersectional selves, corporations, nations and global discourses? This summer school aims to address these questions by opening a space of dialogue between established and emerging scholars and artists working on aesthetic presentation, and to theorise beauty as a form of currency, motor and desire. We invite participants to discuss the politics of beauty around the following themes:
1. Beauty as a currency in economies of visibility and attention.
2. Beauty as a psycho-political motor of emotional capitalism.
3. Beauty as the desire for conformity in an economy of recognition.
4. Beauty as spatially organized economies.

Application Procedure

We kindly ask you to apply with a short abstract on your research (300 words) and a one page CV to be sent to the following email address,, no later than 2nd of May 2016.

Participation Summer School fee £90
Conference fee £60
This is inclusive of accommodation and most meals (all breakfasts and lunch and two dinners).

Concept and Organisation:
• Dr Mónica Moreno Figueroa,, Department of Sociology, University of Cambridge, webpage:
• Dr Dominique Grisard,, Center for Gender Studies, University of Basel & Swiss Center for Social Research, webpage: &
• Dr Margrit Vogt,, Institute of German Literature, Europa-University Flensburg, webpage:

Conference Assistance:
Tanisha Spratt, PhD Candidate, Department of Sociology, University of Cambridge,