“Challenging Comfort as an Idea(l) in Contemporary Literature and Culture”

Contemporary culture has a deeply ambivalent attitude towards comfort. On the one hand, comfort is enshrined as a key ideal in practices from nursing to urban planning. Healthy home and working environments are characterised in terms of comfort levels; ethical behaviour is seen as including comforting others in times of need. On the other hand, comfort is often also seen as an obstacle towards self-growth and achievement. In a neoliberal business environment, we have become used to slogans like “Innovations happen outside of your comfort zone” or “If you never push yourself outside of your comfort zone, you will never improve”.

As a prominent cultural idea(l), the concept of ‘comfort’ conjoins bodily, material (e.g. built environments), social, psychological and ethical dimensions. It thus surprising that there is a scarcity of studies exploring competing conceptualizations of comfort and their implications for practices of the self, (ethical) relations, consumerism (e.g. comfort items), and environmental systems. While a research tradition on comfort exists in nursing studies, ethnology, anthropology, architecture and social geography, there is a need for an interdisciplinary dialogue that includes further theoretical perspectives on how comfort is valorized in different social fields and discourses.

Literary and cultural studies can offer a vital contribution in analysing the shaping of comfort as a cultural narrative and emotional touchstone. This symposium seeks to address questions such as the following:

• Which theories or models may be used to conceptualize ‘comfort’?

• Wherein lies the value of (dis)comfort? How is the concept mobilized by specific discourses or ideologies?

• How do representations of comfort in literature, the arts or media connect to or complicate existing idea(l)s of comfort?

• How may the semantics of ‘comfort’ help trace cultural formations?

For further information on the conference programme and how to get to the venue, see the navigation options on the left.

This conference is open for students at the University of Koblenz-Landau and researchers interested in the topic of 'comfort'. If you would like to attend the event, please send an email to Prof. Dr. Stella Butter (butter[at]uni-landau.de).

Conference organisers:

PD Dr. Dorothee Birke (Aarhus Institute of Advanced Studies, Denmark); email: dorotheebirke[at]aias.au.dk

Prof. Dr. Stella Butter (University of Koblenz-Landau, Campus Landau); email: butter[at]uni-landau.de