Cinematic Discourses of Deprivation
Analyzing the Representation of Precarity and Exclusion in European Fiction Film and Documentary

Emmy Noether Research Group at Film University Babelsberg KONRAD WOLF

Our project aims to analyse how phenomena of deprivation are portrayed in contemporary European films, investigating cinematic discourses on economic precarity and social exclusion since the 1990s. The project centres on the filmic representation of phenomena which, although not always on the public agenda, are part of everyday life all over Europe: the so-called working poor, the jobless and the homeless, youth and old-age poverty, gender-specific insecurity (e.g. single motherhood, the gender pay gap), social exclusion of (undocumented) migrants and refugees, and so forth. Rather than primarily engaging in a direct comparison of films and reality, our research is concerned with the specific modalities or devices at play in filmic discourses. At the broadest level, it therefore examines the way the poor are depicted and the kinds of iconography used to characterize them. It additionally extends to a focus on analysis of the narration deployed to unfold social problems, active reflection on affective structures (how films engender sympathy, empathy or indifference for poor people), and the detection of critical stances towards the problem of precarity. Through this, our project intends to show how cinema constructs deprivation in contemporary societies and, in doing so, how it contributes to its collective perception and interpretation.



Guido Kirsten

Principal Investigator

Dr Guido Kirsten is the PI  of the Emmy Noether Research Group “Cinematic Discourses of Deprivation: Analysing the Representation of Precarity and Exclusion in European Fiction Film and Documentary” at the Film University Babelsberg KONRAD WOLF (Potsdam). His research interests include questions of representation and  audio-visual discourse and narration, questions of proximity and distance in cinema, and the history of film and film theory. He is the author of Filmischer Realismus (2013), co-editor of Christian Metz and the Codes of Cinema: Film Semiology and Beyond (Amsterdam University Press, 2018; with Margrit Tröhler), and editor of Étienne Souriau’s collected film-related writings, Das filmische Universum: Schriften zur Ästhetik des Kinos (Fink, 2020). Since 2007 he has been an editor for the film and television studies journal Montage AV, for which he co-edited issues on André Bazin (2009), the sociology of film in French filmology (2010), film and politics (2014), Roland Barthes’ film-related writings (2015), new film distribution (streaming and BitTorrent; 2017), and questions of proximity and distance (2019).

Kirsten’s research project deals with recurring patterns of the experience of poverty and precariousness in developed industrial countries from the mid-19th century to the present. In analysing these patterns, it draws from source material provided by feature films and documentaries, photographs, and sociographic and autobiographical literature. In each case, patterns of perception and experiences of time and space are investigated. Questions of legitimacy, invisibility and shame; questions of cyclical and progressive time structures, amorphous duration, and time stress ; as well as questions of social segregation and spatial narrowness play important roles here. The project aims to broaden and deepen the understanding  of experiences of poverty through a media studies view of cultural products, testimonies of those affected and corresponding analyses, and thus also to open up new thematic fields, new perspectives, and new analytical instruments for film and media studies.

Elisa Cuter

Research Associate and Ph.D. Candidate

Elisa Cuter studied Philosophy at the Università degli Studi di Torino (Bachelor) and Film Studies at the Freie Universität (Master). While completing her studies, she has worked at the archive of the National Museum of Cinema in Turin and as a film critic for several publications in Italy and Germany. She served as an assistant to the artistic director for Cinema Lavoro Migrazioni: Carbonia Film Festival; as a curator of scientific panels for Lovers Filmfestival LGBTQI Turin Visions; and as a member of the selection committee for Berlin Feminist Film Week. She is part of the editorial board of the Associazione Italiana per le Ricerche di Storia del Cinema. Since September 2018 she is chief editor of the politics and society section of the online magazine Il Tascabile, edited by the Treccani Institute for the Italian Encyclopedia. Her contributions have been published in peer-reviewed journals and edited collections.

Her research for the project “Cinematic Discourses of Deprivation” concerns depictions in contemporary cinema of the precarious condition of the forms of work that most explicitly exemplify the tertiarization of Western capitalism in the times of its crisis: artists, journalists, academics, and other intellectuals and creative workers. Through diverse formats, genres, and national productions, she is researching the variegated formal strategies that contribute to different and contradictory cinematic discourses. They range from the romanticization of the penniless artist and the rhetoric of intellectual privilege, to attempts to offer portraits and narratives of the growing and endangered category of cognitive workers. Through a multidisciplinary theoretical approach, her aim is also to situate such filmic discourses within current socio-political debates.


Hanna Prenzel

Research Associate and Ph.D. Candidate

Hanna Prenzel studied Art, Arts and Media Administration (M.A.) and Art history in a global context focusing on African art (M.A.) in Berlin, Osnabrück, Rennes (France) and Dakar (Senegal), as well as Documentary Filmmaking at the self-organized film school filmArche in Berlin-Neukölln. In 2017, she completed her master’s degree at the Freie Universität Berlin with a thesis on documentary films dealing with (post-)colonial family histories in Germany. Her areas of interest include documentary ethics, postcolonial theory, intersectionality, and feminist film theory. She co-founded the TINT Filmkollektiv and is a certified social justice and diversity trainer. In addition to her academic career, she works as a freelance documentary filmmaker and media educator.

In her scientific-artistic research project, she focuses on forms of resistance in precarization processes based on a feminist-intersectional approach. Analysing a corpus of feature films and documentaries from the 1970s to the present day, she discusses alternative forms of strike in precarious living and housing conditions. Her work negotiates questions of subjective, non-union forms of strike, becoming precarious beyond normal working conditions, precarious housing and rent protests as well as the intersectional forms of discrimination. In her artistic research, she uses historical film examples to explore current debates surrounding precarization against the backdrop of temporal ruptures and continuities in cinematic depictions of forms of resistance in precarious conditions.


Alexandra Miljkovic

Research Assistant

Aleksandra Miljkovic studied Art History at the Philosophical Faculty in Belgrade, Serbia, where she completed her master’s degree with a focus on contemporary art and film. She has been involved in several special exhibitions at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Serbia and at the Museum of Yugoslav History. Her journalistic texts have been published both in the magazine of the Yugoslav Film Archive and in the German newspapers der Freitag and Junge Welt. Now living in Berlin, she is currently pursuing a M.A. degree in Film Culture Heritage at the Film University.


Sophie Glawe

Research Assistant

Sophie Glawe studied media cultural studies and psychology at the Albert-Ludwigs-University in Freiburg and at the University College in Volda, Norway. She completed her bachelor’s degree with a thesis on the performance of privacy in media self-presentations, focusing on media aesthetics and popular culture. Since 2020, she is a student of the Master’s program Media Studies at the Filmuniversität Babelsberg KONRAD WOLF and researches film review and production studies, among other topics.




Hanna Prenzel: Feminist Perspectives on Precarization. Revisiting Gendered Strike in Collaboratively Produced Films. In: Image & Narrative, Vol. 22 No. 3 (2021): The Aesthetics of Precarity. Precarious Realities and Visual Modes of Representation, pp. 50-70.

Elisa Cuter: It’s a Hard Life for the Cognitariat. How Lizzani’s 1964 Film Depicts Precarious Intellectual Labor. In: Image & Narrative, Vol. 22 No. 3 (2021): The Aesthetics of Precarity. Precarious Realities and Visual Modes of Representation, pp. 36-49.

Guido Kirsten: Structures of Unemployment and their Filmic Figuration. Towards a Political Poetics. In: Image & Narrative, Vol. 22 No. 3 (2021): The Aesthetics of Precarity. Precarious Realities and Visual Modes of Representation, pp. 7-21.

Elisa Cuter: Il margine al centro: identità e universalità in Diamante nero. In: Federica Fabbiani & Chiara Zanini (eds.) Architetture del desiderio. Il cinema di Céline Sciamma. Milan: Asterisco, 2021, pp. 65-83.

Hanna Prenzel: Anke Haarmann: Artistic Research: Eine epistemologische Ästhetik. In: MEDIENwissenschaft: Rezensionen | Reviews, Vol. 37 (2020), No. 4, pp. 371–372. DOI:

Hanna Prenzel: Laura Mulvey: Afterimages: On Cinema, Women and Changing Times. In: MEDIENwissenschaft: Rezensionen | Reviews, Vol. 37 (2020), No. 2-3, pp. 231–232. DOI:

Elisa Cuter: Jeff Menne: Post-Fordist Cinema: Hollywood Auteurs and the Corporate Counterculture. In:  MEDIENwissenschaft: Rezensionen | Reviews, Vol. 37 (2020), No. 1, pp. 84–86. DOI:

Guido Kirsten: Caroline Braun: Von Bettlern, Waisenkindern und Dienstmädchen. Armutsdarstellungen im frühen Film und ihr Anteil an der Etablierung des Kinos in Deutschland. In: Filmblatt 70/71 (2019), pp. 134–136.

Elisa Cuter: Steven Ungar: Critical Mass: Social Documentary in France from the Silent Era to the New Wave. In: MEDIENwissenschaft: Rezensionen | Reviews, Vol. 36 (2019), No. 4, pp. 388–389. DOI:

Hanna Prenzel: Thomas Bräutigam: Klassiker des deutschsprachigen Dokumentarfilms. In: MEDIENwissenschaft: Rezensionen | Reviews, Vol. 36 (2019), No. 4, pp. 390–391. DOI:

Guido Kirsten: Jean-Pierre Meunier’s Modalities of the „Filmic Attitude“: Towards a Theory of Referentiality in Cinematic Discourse. In: Julian Hanich & Daniel Fairfax (eds.), The Structures of the Film Experience by Jean-Pierre Meunier: Historical Assessments and Phenomenological Expansions. Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press, 2019, pp. 273–287.

Guido Kirsten: Gespräch über das Emmy Noether-Forschungsprojekt Filmische Diskurse des Mangels, Filmuniversität Babelsberg KONRAD WOLF, 2018.

Guido Kirsten: Armut und Alltag. Zur Darstellung proletarischer und subproletarischer Lebensrealität im Kino der Weimarer Republik. In: Vrääth Öhner & Lena Stölzl (Hg.) Sichtbar machen. Politiken des Dokumentarfilms. Berlin: Vorwerk 8, 2018, pp. 208–222.

Guido Kirsten: Über Pimpare, Stephen: Ghettos, Tramps, and Welfare Queens Down and Out on the Silver Screen. New York 2017. In: H-Soz-Kult February 26, 2018.