Maxi Albrecht


Lansstraße 5-9
14195 Berlin

The Cultural Politics of Intelligence in Dystopian Fiction

The concept of intelligence, and particularly that of multiple intelligences, has so far not been a main concern of cultural and literary studies. Building on the concept of a cultural politics of intelligence already developed in my master thesis, this dissertation concentrates on the theoretical consideration of intelligences as cultural constructs. Conceptualizing dystopian fiction as an imaginary space of survival and the adaptation of one’s behavior and thinking after the parameters of contemporary culture have been removed or altered drastically, the representation of character’s intelligences and the ways in which they are portrayed, evaluated, and constructed is the focus of this analysis.

While intelligence has long been regarded as a natural scientific entity, which is more or less stable and consequently easily measurable, drawing on theories such as Howard Gardner’s multiple intelligence theory and Robert Sternberg’s triarchic theory of intelligence allows for a break with such monolithic and constricting notions of intelligence. The cultural politics of intelligence deconstruct the traditional understanding of intelligences and expand it to encompass both the medially and culturally constructed nature of intelligences, as well as the power relations inherent to the cultural dynamics of intelligences as such constructs. Consequently, the way different types of intelligence – such as practical, emotional, and moral intelligence, for instance – are represented, evaluated and thus constructed in the first place constitutes a main concern in the analysis of the cultural politics of intelligence.  

I propose, then, the concept of the cultural politics of intelligence as a point of entry to analyzing the dynamics of contributing meaning by constructing intelligence and intelligences as culturally based phenomena. Employing this term, I argue that intelligences are not purely natural scientific notions that can be measured, for example via IQ tests, but are actually constructed through cultural processes of representation and value attribution, which are subject to complex power relations and structures. Drawing on Antonio Gramsci’s notion of hegemony, Michel Foucault’s power dialectics, Stuart Hall’s theory of the politics of representation, and Pierre Bourdieu’s field theory, in particular his notion of symbolic capital and symbolic power relations, I further argue that intelligences become symbolically generated forms of differentiation, hierarchizations, and cultural dominance as they are engaged in cultural power struggles. Conceptually, I place the site of these power struggles over symbolic legitimization in representation in cultural and literary production.

Dahlem Research School
Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft