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Rutten, Ellen

Rutten, Ellen

Individual Fellow


Which desires do people satisfy by embracing imperfections — and how can we use the present-day desire for the imperfect and the non-polished to address pressing social concerns?

Project Description

Ours is an age of spellcheckers, photo filters, and other technologies that aim at lightening everyday lives. Against this growing technological perfection, we see a growing interest in imperfection – among marketeers, who successfully promote ‘imperfectly perfect’ supermarket vegetables; among designers, who deliberately craft wonky chairs or torn jeans; among psychologists, who see perfectionism as a cause for depression or burnout; and among philosophers, who criticize genetic experiments meant to perfect humans. I compare these and other ‘cults of imperfection’ across different disciplines and world regions. I study their pitfalls (fans of imperfection sometimes unduly romanticize poverty and hardship) – but, together with designers and curators, I also examine how we can use the present-day interest in the imperfect and non-polished to address pressing social problems.

Selected Publications

1) ‘“Russian” Imperfections? A Plea for Transcultural Readings of Aesthetic Trends.’ In Transnational Russian Studies (Andy Byford et al., eds.). Liverpool: Liverpool University Press 2019 (in print).
2) Sincerity after Communism: A Cultural History. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2017.
3) ‘Reaktsionnaia iskrennost’ [Reactionary Sincerity].’ Novoe literaturnoe obozrenie [New Literary Observer], 3 (2018), open access via http://magazines.russ.ru/nlo/2018/3/reakcionnaya-iskrennost.html.

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