Current Research Projects in German Studies: Conchita Wurst & Transgender Identity Performance

The United States have the Super Bowl, Europe has the Eurovision Song Contest. Almost 200 Million people watch how performers from 40+ countries compete for the votes of the televoting audience. (No, you have not missed a sudden expansion of the European Union — the European Broadcasting Union is significantly larger than the EU, including many Eastern European countries as well as Turkey and Israel, for instance.)

Over time, most winning performers have not left a lasting imprint on the global entertainment industry. The Swedish band ABBA and the Canadian singer Celine Dion (yes, her — she actually won the contest starting for Switzerland!) are the exceptions confirming the norm.

The winner of the 2014 contest did leave an imprint: Conchita Wurst, a “Kunstfigur” created by the Austrian performer Thomas Neuwirth, surprised the audience not so much with her song but with her overall performance which boldly challenged heteronormative gender expectations.

To watch a video and read more, click below.

Since then, Conchita has become an international phenomenon that also brings up a lot of questions: What does this kind of gender performativity say about discourses of trans/gender and sexuality in Austria, a country whose rather conservative social and cultural sphere is still shaped by the Catholic church? Is Conchita’s success indicative of a changing relationship between national and international/European Union debates about gender and sexuality?…

In a great example of the interdisciplinary undergraduate research that’s possible at ASC, Ashley Orage, a German Studies and Music double major is currently investigating these questions in her Senior Thesis project. Drawing on her German language and culture skills and building on her semester-long study-abroad experience in Salzburg, Austria, Ashley is currently researching Austrian newspapers and magazines to investigate these questions. Her final project, a longer essay in German, will be available in the ASC library after the end of this Spring semester!


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