Esther Peeren's research focuses on the relationship between the cultural imagination (literature, film, TV and art) and social issues relating to identity formation, marginalisation and agency. Based on theoretically informed analyses of the narratives and images highlighted by specific cultural objects, she shows how the cultural imagination both contributes to shaping social reality and to reflecting – critically or otherwise – upon it.
From 2018 to 2023, Peeren will lead the research project ‘Imaging the Rural in a Globalizing World’, for which she was awarded a prestigious Consolidator Grant by the European Research Council (ERC). This project focuses on the underexposed influence of globalisation on rural areas. With a team of PhD candidates and postdocs, Peeren examines the crucial cultural imaginations of the rural in literature, film and television play in determining whether specific aspects of contemporary rural life do or do not become visible, which influences the way in which the rural can be mobilised politically. The project compares cultural imaginations in the UK, the US, the Netherlands, China and South Africa.
Peeren's earlier research focused on the concept of spectrality, which uses the metaphor of the ghost or haunting to explain how the past plays an active role in the present and how particular aspects of social reality are consciously or unconsciously rendered invisible. Her monograph The Spectral Metaphor: Living Ghosts and the Agency of Invisibility (Palgrave Macmillan, 2014) shows how novels, films and television series shed light on the complex but often also strategic way in which undocumented migrants, domestic workers, mediums and missing people navigate between visibility and invisibility.
As professor of Cultural Analysis, Peeren's teaching and research will focus on the comparative and interdisciplinary analysis of culture from a broad humanities perspective. A central preoccupation is how contemporary culture, including popular culture, is approached, analysed and theorised. Peeren also wishes to draw attention to the many ways in which cultural expressions can contribute to the contemporary social and political debate.
About Esther Peeren
After her doctoral studies in English and Literary Studies at the University of Groningen and an MSt in Women’s Studies at the University of Oxford, Peeren earned her doctorate from the Amsterdam School for Cultural Analysis (ASCA) at the UvA in 2005. Her thesis was published in 2008 as Intersubjectivities and Popular Culture: Bakhtin and Beyond (Stanford University Press). She has worked at the UvA since 2006 as an assistant professor in Literary Studies, an associate professor in Globalisation Studies and an associate professor in Literary and Cultural Analysis. Peeren's teaching is guided by her research and focuses on developing the skills required to bring cultural objects and theoretical concepts into dialogue with each other, ensuring that theories are not only applied to objects, but that the analysis of the objects also contributes to the development of the theory.
From 2013 until 2017, Peeren was the vice-director of the Amsterdam Centre for Globalisation Studies (ACGS) where, in addition to developing research policy, she also set up the Research Master’s elective ‘Going Global’. Since 2013, she has been the vice-director of the Amsterdam School for Cultural Analysis (ASCA), where she mainly focuses on the doctoral community. Together with Jeroen de Kloet, Peeren is the series editor for ‘Palgrave Studies in Globalization, Culture & Society’ (Palgrave Macmillan). She is also on the editorial boards of the book series ‘Thamyris/Intersecting: Place, Sex, and Race’ (Brill) and the online journal Collateral: Online Journal for Cross-Cultural Close Reading.