A lot of attention and public discourse today centers on how we live in times in which radical global inequalities continue unabated. Also in the cultural fields, the structural divides along lines of discrimination, sexism, racism, classism, and ableism, among others, still persist. In this transversal research focus “Power & Inequality”, we adopt an interdisciplinary perspective on the question of how power structures and social inequalities are (re‑)produced in society in general and in cultural fields more specifically, both through frameworks and infrastructures and through the people who interact within these structures. We are especially concerned with the societal contexts and transformation processes that arise from globalization, migration, and digitalization.

We understand processes of power and inequality as inherently interwoven, in which more powerful agents can shape discourses in the arts and as gatekeepers restrict access to resources for the less powerful, resulting in and/or reproducing social inequalities. We also focus on concepts such as participation, representation, access, diversity, equality/equity, and inclusion, and on endeavors to overcome power asymmetries. These include, among others, efforts to deconstruct hegemonic narratives and practices through anti-racist, decolonial, feminist, and transcultural approaches.

We explore a broad range of forms of power and inequality. For instance, we address some of the complex processes concerning the impact of stereotypical representations and discrimination, how the legitimacy of an art form is established, how artistic works are evaluated, how artists are treated differently depending on their demographic and socioeconomic backgrounds, and how artistic tastes are shaped. We also study dominant meritocratic narratives in cultural labor markets and how they impact the careers of musicians and other artists.

Additionally, questions raised in our research concern established rules and conventions as well as cultural policy frameworks and patterns of mobility and (forced) migration relating to different fields of the arts and cultural production. In our work, we also engage with critiques of neo-colonial structures and racism. Issues of standardization, institutionalization, canonization, and evaluation are discussed, for example by exploring power dynamics according to categories of gender, class, age, “race”, ethnicity, citizenship, and sexuality as well as their intersections. In particular, addressing the intersectional nature of power dynamics is an important step in acknowledging the complexity of identifying specific forms of discrimination and recognizing individual agency with different sets of backgrounds.

Overall, we believe that it is crucial to take into account that these power-laden relations often have a global dimension, positioning the arts within processes of globalization and (forced) migration. In our research focus on “Power & Inequality”, we reflect on these complex constellations from different perspectives and thereby respond to processes of societal transformation, power structures, and social inequalities.


Involved researchers:

Lisa Gaupp

Tatjana Nikolić

Andrea Glauser

Seo Young Cho

Dagmar Abfalter