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Conference Paper Abstracts


Julten Abdelhalim: "ISO-Certified Pardahs and the Dislocation of Agency among Muslim Women in Kerala"

Starting from the late 1970s, South India and especially Kerala witnessed intensive labour migration to Gulf countries following the oil boom of 1973. In today’s Kerala, especially the Northern Part with the majority of Muslims, who are known as the Mappila Muslims of Malabar, one can see the prevalence of the traditional Gulf female attire called ‘Abbayyah in Arabic, which was introduced in the Keralite context as Pardah. Although the term Pardah has a different connotation in the Indian context (mainly the act of hiding the female face in public spaces with the shawl, regardless of religious affiliation), it came to denote the black long dress worn by the Saudi women. Several discourses concerning the Pardah have arisen. The forces of contention is concentrated among two groups; those who call themselves the secularists and the Islamic feminists. They stand against the Muslim orthodox voices, sided by the common woman who does not hold any specific sociopolitical orientation. Their argument coincides in the rejection of de-traditionalizing of the Keralite society and the blind adoption of foreign Arabic customs. In a society characterized by a strong ability to accommodate foreign elements, this case of adoption of the Pardah dress is associated with other phenomena like introduction of Egyptian, Saudi and Yemeni popular food in all restaurants around Kerala. The cultural flow is mixed with strong economic incentives that led to successful business enterprises in manufacturing and selling these Arab popular lifestyles. Male-based cults conspired with market mechanisms to create trends that dislocated the agency of women in deciding or ‘coding’ their dressing style. During the last ten years, the consequent forces of social change and globalization have led to an interesting alteration in conceptions of fashion, especially in a society characterized by strong traditional rural values.
The South Indian society witnessed massive social changes linked with women’s forms of dress. Though they were not conceived as agents in setting mainstream rules of decency, women, especially Muslims, were the most evident subjects of social change. Inherent and traditional conceptions of decency and sexuality in the South Indian society were reshaped through different phases often trespassing the barriers of caste and religion. These phases  started with the Breast Cloth controversy of early 19th century that culminated in wiping out the ban on low caste Hindu women to cover their bosoms, to the adoption of the originally Brahminical North Indian attire, known as the Sari, then the switching to the salwar qameez, and lastly the Pardah.. This paper attempts at demonstrating these different arguments and showing the paradox of how in a society where women control the outcome of the political process, their agency is continually denied and manipulated. (PDF

Laila Abu-Er-Rub: “Striving for an International Look: the Trend of Travelling Beauties in Asia”

The arrival of consumer culture in Asia through flows of capital, media, people, ideas, and images has transformed images of beauty in fashion and advertising wherever you may look at, be it in India, China, Japan, Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand or Vietnam. In the course of this development a new kind of transcultural beauty ideal was created which still carries some local characteristics but is to a large extent homogenised. Targeting at modern urban consumers, people involved in the production process of commercial images often aim at visualising feminity and masculinity that can be read as both, as global and local, as an embodiment of a modern world citizen. Particularly for catwalks and for fashion photography a certain kind of body type is required that is in line with the global standard for fashion imagery. Likewise the photographic style of such images became adjusted to convey a modern appeal. As the budgets for image production in the emerging markets in not as high as in their Western counterparts the availability of cheap labour in terms of models coming from economically less privileged countries helps decreasing their productions costs. This made attractive women and men from Eastern Europe and Brazil who are embodying the global beauty ideal in print media distributed on a larger scale travelling to Asia. This paper traces the emergence of this trend in different Asian countries and describes through a case study from India how Asian fashion photography is informed by a Western standard. (PDF

Jennifer Altehenger: "Children of the Crocodile: Cartoon Magazines, Political Satire and the Pan-socialist Project in the early PRC and GDR"

This paper examines three socialist cartoon magazines - the PRC’s Cartoons Monthly, the GDR’s Eulenspiegel, and the Soviet Crocodile – and their artistic production during the early years of the Cold War. As both Cartoons Monthly and Eulenspiegel were modeled on the Crocodile, an analysis of these three publications will shed light on cultural exchanges across the socialist bloc prior to the Korean War, the first “hot” confrontation of the Cold War, and after. Building on recent scholarship that has examined literary and artistic exchanges between the Soviet Union and the PRC, this paper argues that political cartooning and satire were one example of a larger pan-socialist trend in cultural production. This trend, which was mainly directed by the governments’ cultural authorities, was supposed to galvanize people under the young communist regimes to fight the common capitalist, fascists, and imperialist enemies. The development and the trajectories of political cartoons in this period, however, demonstrates just how difficult it was to streamline satire in the midst of wavering political circumstances and allegiances across the bloc. An examination of these magazines, their publishers, editors, artists and the cartoons they produced will help trace the development of this pan-socialist propaganda trend and the formation of Cold War cultural homefronts in China and beyond. (PDF)

Sebastian Gehrig: The Second “Evil Empire”? “Red China” and the “Yellow Peril” in Cold War Cinema

With the proclamation of the People’s Republic of China (PRC) on 1 October 1949, the image of “Red China” or the “Yellow Peril” entered Western Cold War popular culture. Recent scholarship has highlighted the pivotal role of the cinema in shaping Western imagination and building home fronts against the “Communist threat” in the cultural Cold War. In the 1950s, Mao Zedong’s PRC turned into one of the dominant themes in “Hollywood’s Cold War,” as Tony Shaw has termed the contribution of US-film studios to instilling the struggle of “East” against “West” into public debate. While filmmakers had close ties to politics, they also made use of China’s rise in world politics to sell their products to audiences in the US and Western Europe. When the “Soviet threat” lost its appeal in the early 1960s, as the superpowers moved to policies of détente, “Red China” replaced the USSR in Hollywood blockbusters. With the proclamation of the Cultural Revolution, however, Maoism turned into a widely recognised political trend in Western intellectual and subcultural left-wing publics. Revolutionary themes thus were now also employed in a playful or serious manner by leftist directors to raise awareness for new political alternatives to US-capitalism or Soviet socialism. This paper traces the uses of Maoist themes in Western cinema as part of the cultural Cold War. It demonstrates how shifting perceptions of the PRC’s role in world politics also impacted on the usage of images of China in Western cinema. This paper thus argues that US-China relations, as well as internal political conflicts on the importance of Maoism as a new ideology within Western societies, were directly reflected in the work of Hollywood blockbusters as well as left-wing cinema. Within Western movies debating the role of the PRC in world politics, information on China melted with Western imaginaries of the “Far East” into transcultural images. Yet, the political trend of following Mao and his ideology remained only a subcultural phenomenon in Western societies. Maoist themes therefore failed to become trendy icons with positive meanings in Western cinema. (PDF)

Lena Henningsen: "Individualism for the Masses? Coffee Consumption and the Chinese Middle Class’ Search for Authenticity"

Consumer culture seems to produce highly homogenous global experiences: to consume a cup of coffee at a Starbucks Store in Beijing may not be so different from such consumption in New York or Berlin. Moreover, consumers of Starbucks in urban China seem to be more similar to their fellow consumers at Starbucks in American big cities than they are to, say, Chinese peasants. This attests to the existence of a global and rather homogenous class of consumers. Nonetheless, large corporations can only be successful in different places when they adapt their strategies and products to the specific conditions of these locations. Additionally, intentionally or not, local consumers may come up with their own strategies of consumption thus modifying the ways of consumption as well as the meaning(s) of it. Therefore, such phenomena of consumption may only be understood when the interplay of global corporations with local specifications and local actors are taken into consideration, as well as the interplay of corporate marketing with cultural products such as movies or books and the interplay of claiming one’s individuality while following a global, transcultural trend. In this paper, I will analyze the Chinese Starbucks trend based on interviews with consumers at Starbucks, scribblings from guestbooks that may be found at these coffee shops and popular literature that portrays coffee consumption. I will trace patterns of consumption as well as the meaning(s) that are given to such consumption both in cultural texts and by individual consumers. This analysis will give us a better understanding of Chinese consumer culture, and of the lives of what may be called the Chinese middle class. I will then argue that a corporation like Starbucks may be successful on a market such as the Chinese, even though its customers do not necessarily conform to its marketing strategy. I will also argue that such corporations offer their customers the means with which to reflect upon their own lives and the changes in their society – what is designed as homogenous visual and textual vocabulary is employed by these customers to pursue their own individualism.(PDF)

Huang Xuelei: “The Banality of the Sublime: Consuming Soviet Movies in Pre-socialist China”

Showing Soviet movies was a remarkable cultural trend in Maoist China and has been extensively researched. This paper scrutinizes the “prelude” to this big trend, i.e. the consumption of Soviet movies in pre-Socialist China throughout the 1920s to 1940s, and argues that showing Soviet movies at this stage was primarily a business, not politics. There is no denying that Soviet movies provided the earliest reservoir of images, narratives and plots for Chinese imaginaries of the political aesthetics of sublimity, but beneath the surface, I argue that popular consumption and reception of these films was no more than a “banal” part of people’s everyday life. I first delineate Soviet movies’ early circuits from Harbin to Shanghai and to southwestern provinces in the war time (1937-1945), and analyze the multiple agencies of commercialism, geopolitics and collective mentalities that facilitated the shaping of this trend. In the second part, by examining film reviews, advertisements, and censorship reports, I look at the ways in which Soviet films were endowed with sublime qualities. The third part examines a counter-discourse and demonstrates that historical spectators did not necessarily succumb to the mainstream construction of the discourse of sublimity in an entirely passive fashion. They had their own ways to put up their aware or unaware resistance. The real fate of the trend of Soviet movies in China, or probably Communist culture at large, might have been no more than the banality of the sublime. (PDF)

Annika Jöst: “Contemporary Visualisations of Foreign Women in China’s Vogue and Elle – Layers of Othering as a Trend of Consumer Markets”

In our contemporary globalising world “othering” is still a universal phenomenon but has acquired new significance as well as new facets. This paper looks at Chinese and Indian editions of the international franchise magazines Vogue and Elle from the last 5 years (2005 to 2010). It identifies visual (re)presentations of “others” and changing processes of “othering” within the realm of these localized versions of global women’s magazines and asks how these periodicals, which are themselves “others” in Asian media systems, portray foreign women.
By analysing covers and advertisements, we ask how and why visualisations of foreign women (i.e. non-Chinese and non-Indian) are created and utilised. Who is the “other” and who not? Is the “other” presented as inclusionary or exclusionary and to what extent? Results show that even though the magazines we have selected belong to European publishing houses and draw from a worldwide common article and image pool, no globally universal use and meaning of the “other” can be identified. Different layers of “othering” are detected as trends on the Asian consumer markets in order to sell themselves as well as the products advertised and presented in the magazines. Still, “othering” is influenced, guided and driven by local histories, backgrounds and experiences and has to be analysed against the backdrop of their historical development in the respective societies. (PDF)

Cora Jungbluth: “Creating Desire to save the World – The Evolution of Eco-friendly Consumption in China”

Our paper traces the evolution of ecologically sensitive consumption and production in China. In order to yield an aggregate picture of how different agents interact in this process, our analysis shall depart from three levels, including politics, enterprises and consumers.
China’s environmental problems – the dark side of the country’s economic growth miracle – have become so severe in recent years that they cannot be ignored any longer by the Chinese government. Protection of the environment has been integrated into the 11th Five-Year-Plan (2006-2010). Since 2008, the State Environmental Protection Administration (SEPA) has enjoyed the rank of a state ministry and is responsible for China’s environmental policy. Chinese (and foreign) enterprises are increasingly pressured to adhere to environmental standards. Implementation is still weak, though.
The Chinese people, especially within the urban middle class, are increasingly aware of China’s environmental problems and the threat these impose to themselves and their country. International environment protection groups, such as Greenpeace, have taken up their difficult work in China and receive increasing support by the local population. A small but continually growing group of consumers in China has started to follow the trend of eco-consumption, which originated in the green movements spreading in the USA and Europe from the early 1980s. These consumers show an increasing interest in the production process of the goods they consume and try to integrate a sense of environment protection into their way of living.
Departing from these developments, we will address the following research questions: How do Chinese policy-makers deal with environmental issues? In how far is it possible for them to influence production processes, especially outside the state sector? Which are the major problems regarding the implementation of environment protection policies? How, by which means and with what intention is awareness within the population created?  Do environmental issues play any role for Chinese companies? Which type of consumer in China cares about environmentally sensitive consumption? How do they approach this issue? (PDF)

Björn-Ole Kamm: “Gates and their Keys – Language Barriers, Flows and “Cosmopolitan” Gatekeepers of Japanese Pop Culture”

Japanese popular culture — animations, comics, video or trading card games and more — has increasingly gained a foothold outside of Japan since the 1990s and has formed a trend in many a youth culture worldwide. Associated practices like the dressing-up as characters of these media (so-called cosplay) have spread to such a degree that corresponding stage plays and costume contests have become an indispensible part of German book fairs, for example.
In the recent scholarly discourse on this “Japanese” popular culture a presumed “otaku” or nerd culture was linked to the idea of transnational trends and an internet-facilitated community. This discourse, however, fails to acknowledge how language itself poses a major obstacle or barrier for the emergence of a shared identity via internet communications. Direct exchange between Japanese “otaku” and their self-proclaimed North-Atlantic counterparts remains limited at best. Many Non-Japanese unquestioningly reproduce a stereotype of the 1990s when referring to Japanese fans of pop cultural products — reclusive, insecure, and anti-social freaks. Technical thresholds like verifications processes to become a member of internet platforms are underestimated as well.
The paper at hand investigates these contemporary barriers by concentrating on those who bridge them — "cosmopolitan" gatekeepers or trendsetters, “hybrid” individuals who have the transcultural experience as well as the cultural (language), economic and social capital necessary to act as conduits in diffusion processes of “otaku” practices outside of Japan and vice-versa. Based on interviews and participant observations on internet platforms of “cosplayers” and “roleplayers”, this paper shows that these gatekeepers share characteristics with the classical concept of the “opinion leader”. (PDF)

Sun Liying: "Whose Health? How to be Beautiful? Incorporating Freikörperkultur (Nudism) into the Chinese Market (1925-1935)"

From the mid-1920s to the mid-1930s, a considerable amount of representation of "uncovered bodies" (luoti 裸體) formed a substantial visual trend in Chinese print. In the previous research, I have analysed how Pei-yang Pictorial News (Beiyang huabao), as an example of pictorials, joined the trend by integrating various types of nudes into their publication. Female nudes, especially erotic Western female nudes seem to be an indispensible component to attract readers.  I also observed that the representation of Freikörperkultur (Nudism) seem to be relatively less presented in the pictorials. Why were nudist images less selected for pictorials although they apparently depicted uncovered bodies as well? (How) would editors or publishers, as important gatekeepers in the market, integrate nudist images as part of the trend?
In this paper, I will first trace the transcultural process of how nudism was widespread as a trend from Germany to China, and explore the historical background of the discourse on nudism in relation to the discourse of "Health and Beauty" (jianmei 健美). Then I will analyse how nudist images were published in pictorials, books as well as calendar posters and advertisements.  I argue that pictorial editors, publishers and commercial artists did not only integrate the nudist images in order to follow the trend, but also (necessarily) appropriated and localized nudist images so as to meet the consumers’ need according to the mechanisms of the market. (PDF)

Petra Thiel: "No Logo? China’s Branded Youth and Their Representation within Contemporary Chinese Literature and Art"

As youth cultures tend to consolidate around particular commodities and practices of consumption, adolescents play an increasingly important role within the various topographies of global consumer culture. Within the everyday of the affluent urban youth, consumption patterns are significant factors in the creation of distinct social identities. Sociologists and historians tend to classify emerging youth cultures within a system which is based on age ranges exclusively. This paper suggests a rather different approach: In order to reveal its complexities and transcultural entanglements, a particular Chinese youth culture, namely China’s ‘Generation X,’ will be examined through the lens of consumerism. Flows of brands and desirable objects, their local and global representations within literature and art will be central topics of my analysis. (PDF)