Dr. Katharina Fackler (Karl-Franzens-Universität Graz, Austria): "A Sense of Social Justice? Photography and the Cold War Struggle against Poverty"

Tuesday, 10.07.2018, 12:15-1:45 p.m., U5/02.18

Individualism and self-reliance have been such dominant values in US culture that public intervention on behalf of the poor has often been branded as un-American. The Cold War, however, changed these dynamics in intricate ways: During this era, the United States sought to justify its claim to global leadership by emphasizing democratic capitalism's presumably superior potential for social justice. The Cold War thus sparked unprecedented concern about poverty and civil rights both at home and abroad. At the same time, Cold War globalism also severely limited the envisioned scope of social change, as the imagined global ascendance of Western modernity required the erasure of fundamental tensions built into what scholars have called racial capitalism.

This presentation analyzes photographs of poverty circulated in popular media during the early Cold War era through the lens of sensory studies, showing how photographs 'made sensible' dominant responses to poverty. They powerfully appealed to visceral, embodied sensory experience and knowledge as they imagined domestic and global poverty as a problem that could be solved through 'development,' i.e. through the integration of the poor into the "irresistible empire" (Victoria de Grazia) of US democratic capitalism. Technology, free markets, and the joyful (and strictly gendered) pleasures of capitalist consumption fed into a formative Cold War version of the "from rags to riches" story whose social implications reverberate to this day.

Katharina Fackler is an assistant professor in the Department of American Studies at the University of Graz. Her research is located in the fields of visual culture studies, in particular the history of U.S.-American photography, civil rights and social documentary photography, class and poverty studies, and sensory history. In 2015, she completed her Ph.D. dissertation on the visual politics of poverty photography in the early Cold War era at the University of Regensburg, where she also taught classes on American literary and cultural history in the American Studies program. Her archival research was funded, among others, by a Moody Grant of the Lyndon B. Johnson Foundation and the 2012 U.S. Ambassador’s Grant for Young Researchers in American Studies. Katharina is a co-editor of the postgraduate online journal COPAS and has written articles on a number of topics ranging from the visual politics of respectability in the Civil Rights Movement to transnational iconographies of hunger. (from: Forschungsportal der Universität Graz)