The Cultural Politics of Sleep

Nicole Eugene recently defended her Masters Thesis called Potent Sleep: The Cultural Politics of Sleep (PDF) on a topic that I find fascinating:

Why is sleep, a moment that is physiologically full and mentally boundless, thought to be a moment of absence and powerlessness? Where did this devalued notion of sleep come from and how can we situate sleep studies within a continuation of a historical processes and economic infuences? In other words, how does sleep effect and exist within systems of power? To answer these questions I turn to a range of scholarship and theoretical studies to examine the complexities and dynamics at work within the cultural discourses on sleep. By creating a genealogy of sleep I am able to track the way notions of sleep have changed and evolved over time. I develop a theoretical framework to examine how the Enlightenment effected notions of sleep by strengthening a cultural disposition for logical, rational and phonomenological modes of knowledge. I find that the advent of modernity is signified by the moment in which sleep, darkness and unknowing become negative while being awake, light and knowledge become positive. To understand how sleep (and sleep studies) operates in contemporary situations I examine them within the economy of time in which clock time is conflated with money. Here I also visit the way sleep functions in relation to work in a neo-Taylorist management era. I offer an account of sleep’s connections to passivity within the patriarchal systems of thought. I determine that the cultural politics of sleep and sleep disorders point to a rift in the Western Self because of a presumed simultaneity of thinking, acting and being. I have engaged in a range of disciplines and use theory, historical studies, textual analysis , and autoethnography as methodologies to outline some of the major cultural discussions that surround sleep.

And she is not the only one in the world interested in cultural, social and political aspects of sleep. I wish someone would pay for me to go and liveblog the Workshop: New Directions in the Social and Cultural Study of Sleep to be held in Vienna on 7-9 June 2007:

This international and interdisciplinary workshop aims at exploring new directions in the study of sleep from the perspectives of the Humanities, Social and Cultural Sciences. The aim is to raise awareness of the social, cultural, political, and environmental influences on sleep behaviour and to describe in detail variations of sleep patterns in different countries and social groups as well as the meanings people attribute to their sleep and sleep-related behaviour.

Once I read the 191 pages of Nicole’s thesis (and I’ll have to find some time to do it), I will post my thoughts on it here, so stay tuned.


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