PhD Project Franziska Reichenbecher

Media of Hospitality. Cleaning Work, Architectures and Table Cultures

The dissertation explores the media conditions of everyday hospitality with regard to cleaning work, architectures, and table cultures. It is based on the notion of hospitality as a fundamentally distributed phenomenon that can be understood in terms of spatial distribution, anthropomedial relationality, and specifically serving delegations. In doing so, the dissertation contributes to media studies research on everyday culture and complements philosophical and cultural studies discourses on hospitality with a specific media anthropological perspective.

The dissertation aims to elaborate the field of ›hospitality‹ in its constitutive mediality and heterogeneity by following the three axes of cleaning work, architectures, and table cultures. In doing so, it fills a gap in previous research on hospitality: Canonical theories of hospitality (Gastfreundschaft), such as those of Kant, Lévinas, Derrida, and Bahr, have largely ignored ordinary hospitality as well as situations that do not appear ›hospitable‹ at first glance.  Since these approaches focus on the ethical and metaphysical implications of hospitality as a normative principle on a macro-political scale, they tend to understand it primarily as a challenge for states, nations, or cultures (Liebsch). Moreover, its precarious implementation is attributed to an irresolvable contradiction between the ideal of unconditional hospitality and hospitable practices that are always limited to certain conditions. However, this biased tradition tends to obscure the various processes of mediation, that the dissertation emphasizes by using a relational, micro-political and non-normative understanding of its own object of knowledge. Accordingly, hospitalities are perceived as anthropomedial entanglements of human and non-human actors that don’t need to be ›successfull‹ or be pleasant. Instead, hospitality is genuine hard work that is not only constantly threatened by failure or escalation, but also involves ambiguous affairs and mixed roles.

The dissertation draws on contemporary representations of hospitality that circulate within and/or address everyday culture: Audiovisual material from film and television that depicts ubiquitous, excessive and staged modes of (fictional) hospitality offers its own ›scenic‹ consideration of the subject. The specific materiality, design, and practical use of tangible objects (such as guest towels and slippers, decorations, furniture, etc.) as well as written and visual sources (such as floor plans, catalogs, manuals, and photographs) also generate a common ›knowledge of the hospitable‹. The heuristic differentiation between cleaning work, architectures, and table cultures maps the three crucial areas in which the relationality of guests and hosts evolves and (de)stabilizes both according to the operative logics of things and in the specific practices of people.

By analyzing programmatically heterogeneous representations of hospitality and discussing concepts from (media) philosophy, cultural studies, ethnology, and ecology, the dissertation develops a view of the mediality of everyday hospitalities. The main aspects of its argumentation are: 1. the practices of appropriation and cleaning that generate residency (Ansässigkeit) as a condition of possibility for stationary hospitality, 2. the spatial and temporal processing of hospitable relations performed by architectures and infrastructures in private households and hotels, 3. the specific management of coexistence that takes place under stress within anthropomedial ›table-societies‹ (Tischgesellschaften), and 4. the ongoing delegations that determine all these contexts.

The dissertation was supported by a doctoral scholarship from the Kompetenzzentrum Medienanthropologie (KOMA) from 2015 to 2018 and by the Equal Opportunity Office's »Publication Fund for Early Career Female Scientists and Artists« at the Bauhaus University Weimar.


Front yard in Nenagh, Ireland, February 2016, photography by F.R.