Katharina Vester

Di02Jul18:30Di20:00Katharina VesterCleaning up the American Mess with KonMari and Goop: Curation, Self-Care and Belonging(sVeranstaltungsartVortrag


The W. E. B. Du Bois Lecture Series in American Culture Studies

Eight episodes of the much-awaited new home make-over series, Tidying Up with Marie Kondo, started to stream on Netflix in January 2019. Kondo’s KonMari Method has been a success story since the release of her book The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up in 2014. The method that promises “a spark of joy” from one’s (well-organized) possessions and therewith greater happiness and sense of purpose in life, is a further twist in a neoliberal economy: As the quantity of possessions obviously fails to produce happiness, new advice claims that the right choice does. “Curating” one’s possessions to optimize one’s self and wellbeing has emerged as a new disciplinary practice to perform class privilege through discriminating taste.

While Marie Kondo teaches Americans how to curate their belongings for the sake of creating purpose and happiness, websites have emerged recently that sell already curated “collections,” thus lifting the burden of buying the “right” things from consumers, usually for a princely sum. Goop.com is one of the earliest and most successful examples. Launched in 2008, the website flies under the banner “Make every choice count.” It suggests that the allegedly hand-picked products (from food to cosmetics, fashion and home decor) sold here reflect creator Gwyneth Paltrow’s taste. The curated items therefore promise to bring some of the movie star’s glamour, success and happiness into the life of everyone (who can afford the stellar prices). The advice to curate one’s belongings or the offer to buy curated ones not only leaves the presumption that property brings happiness unchallenged, but reinforces it. If belongings have failed so far to provide richness and texture to a person’s life, then it is the person’s fault as they lacked the knowledge, skill, and commitment to choose the right possessions. With these two examples, the talk investigates the implications of curating and what the phenomenon reveals about power relations under American neoliberal conditions.

Katharina Vester is Associate Professor of History at American University in Washington, D.C. Her book, A Taste of Power: Food and American Identities, published in November 2015 by the University of California Press, is an investigation of the crucial role played by food discourses and culinary practices in the formation of cultural identity and power relations in American history. Food writing, she argues, has helped to make normative claims about citizenship, gender behavior, class privilege, race, ethnicity, and sexual deviancy, while promising an increase in cultural capital and social mobility to those who comply with the prescribed norms.

Her work on her next monograph, Bodies to Die for: Health and Beauty in Pop Culture leads her to investigate the cultural architecture of bodies, and how health advice and beauty ideals serve to justify privileges coming with class, race and gender.

Vester’s article “Regime Change: Gender, Class, and the Invention of Dieting in Post-Bellum America” in the Journal of Social History won the Belasco Prize for Scholarly Excellence. Vester is the editor, with Kornelia Freitag, of Another Language: Poetic Experiments in Britain and North America.

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2. Juli 2019 18:30 - 20:00(GMT+02:00)

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