Visualising Class. Class and the Visual Arts Today (1980-2019)

Conference, 15 November 2019, Manchester, United Kingdom

Visualising Class

Class and the Visual Arts Today (1980-2019)


The University of Manchester, November 15, 10am-18.30pm

Room G7, Bridgeford Street Building.

Ticket/entry details: Open to all, free admission


The Department of Sociology at the University of Manchester and the Collège International de Philosophie are pleased to announce a one-day interdisciplinary conference focusing on the representation of social classes in contemporary art and visual culture.


It is one of the paradoxes of our time that, while statistical data reveals how societies are marked by social discriminations and staggering inequalities, the idea of class has virtually lost the political dimension that used to inform it. If the concept is not dismissed outright as obsolete, it is too often reduced to being merely descriptive and ideologically neutral. This is not only true for the notion of "working class", but also, and perhaps more surprising, for the notion of "bourgeoisie", a category that not long ago seemed indispensable for social and cultural analyses.

It is generally agreed that "class" defines as much factual economic conditions as social representations. As such, the possibility of interpreting societal conflicts, psychological traits and personal taste via this category rests, at least in part, on shared images and imaginaries. For more than one hundred years, painters, sculptors, photographers and cartoonists created powerful portrayals of social classes, revealing recurrent motifs and strong symbols of identity. From the strikers of Pellizza da Volpedo's The Fourth Estate to the allegorical figures of Walter Crane, and from the cunning bourgeois of Honoré Daumier to the repulsive establishment depicted by George Grosz, the visual arts have captured the idiosyncrasies of the different classes, crafting an iconography that is still largely legible, if ostensibly outdated.   

Visualising Class seeks to explore the way in which contemporary visual artists (in the broadest sense: performers, photographers, filmmakers, architects, designers, etc.) have engaged with the issue of class. The conference invites scholars from various disciplines (sociology, anthropology, art history, visual studies, etc.) to examine figures and icons that have emerged over the past forty years in order to problematise the vanishing, persistence or mutation of classes.




10-10.15am Welcome speech and opening remarks.

Jacopo Galimberti (University of Manchester)



Session I. Women, Migrant Workers and the Limits of Intersectionality

Chair: Nicholas Thoburn (University of Manchester)


Angela Dimitrakaki (University of Edinburgh) – Women, Work and the Class Relation: A Note on the Political Imaginary of Feminist Art History Today

Klara Kemp-Welch (The Courtauld Institute of Art) – Visualising 'Skill': Contemporary Art and Labour Migration in the EU

Marina Vishmidt (Goldsmiths) – Between Equal Rights, Seeing Decide? Class and Other Struggles in the Image Field.


12.30pm-1.30pm Lunch



Session II. The People, the Bourgeois and the Mask

Chair: Jacopo Galimberti (University of Manchester)


Julian Stallabrass (The Courtauld Institute of Art) – The Image of the People in Street Art?

Stefan Jonsson (Linköping University) – Masked Collectivities: Imaging Protest between Representation and Performativity

Jörg Probst (Independent Scholar) – After the Middle Class? The German Wutbürger and the Iconology of the Bourgeoisie.


3. 45pm-4.15pm Coffee break 



Session III. Rethinking Class and its Materiality.

Chair: Elisa Pieri (University of Manchester).


Nicholas Thoburn (University of Manchester) – Materialising Class at Robin Hood Gardens

Danielle Child (Manchester School of Art)  Unattractive Materials: Contemporary British Art and the Visibility of Class

Jérôme Bazin (Université Paris-Est Créteil) – The Constant Heterogeneity of the Working Class.