An Aesthetic Disposition: Art, Social Reproduction, and Feminist Critique

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This project focuses on the question: how might we understand the politics of contemporary art? Grounding my research in feminist political theory, I argue that art’s most critical function—in the US-based context of neoliberalism—may be found in art’s ability to perform the work of social reproduction. I draw the concept of social reproduction from feminist and critical theory to mean two things. First, regarding social reproduction as a paradigm for social change, I ask how works of art participate in building subjects and structures that prefigure alternative, life sustaining worlds. Second, regarding social reproduction as the labor of care, I develop a theory of art as a source of critical hope and sensible rejuvenation. My work thus complicates the common belief—held for example in critical theory—that sensible stimulation obscures critical awareness and encourages apolitical escape. To the contrary, I find art to offer needed resources for critical world-building precisely through the aesthetic dispositions that artworks prompt. I build this argument through close attention to the work of three US-based women artists: Simone Leigh, Roni Horn, and Mika Rottenberg. By foregrounding the work of these artists in conversation with recent feminist thinking on affect and political economy, my research reorients the discourse on aesthetics and politics away from an emphasis on knowledge and subject representation, toward the undervalued work of somatic care and subject formation.






Hayes, Shannan Lee (2020). An Aesthetic Disposition: Art, Social Reproduction, and Feminist Critique. Dissertation, Duke University. Retrieved from


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