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). His newest book is Découpage: Historische Semantik eines filmästhetischen Begriffs (Marburg: Schüren, 2022). Also appearing in 2022 is, as the first volume in the new book series „Film, Class, Society“ the edited volume Precarity in European Film: Depictions and Discourses (Berlin/Boston: DeGruyter, eds. Elisa Cuter, Guido Kirsten, Hanna Prenzel).

Kirsten is working on a monograph with the working title Cinema and Class in which he develops a theory of cinematic discursivity and traces historical stages in the representation of social phenomena related to class society (such as exploitation, poverty, unemployment, and housing shortages). Central to his theory of cinematic discursivity is the differentiation of three semantic dimensions: the intensional, the extensional, and the referential dimension. They correspond to the textual systems of audiovisual style (as the result of découpage, mise en scène, editing, and sound design), narration (ordering, sequencing, and linking diegetic events), and discourse (representational, argumentative, and persuasive references to social reality). In discursive readings of films, the referential dimension is privileged over the other two, so the focus is on references to social reality and references to other discourses about this reality (both can be distinguished categorically, but not separated from each other).
Kirsten unfolds problems of analyzing cinematic class discourses on the basis of five stages: Lois Weber’s socially critical films Shoes (US 1916) and The Blot (1921); the class-conscious cinema of the late Weimar Republic from Mother Krausens Fahrt ins Glück (1929) to Kuhle Wampe (1932); negotiations of housing problems in L’onorevole Angelina (1947), Il tetto (1956) and Le mani sulla città (1963); political narratives of wildcat strikes in Coup pour coup and Tout va bien (both 1972); finally, the so-called “cinema of precarity” of the late 1990s until today. Kirsten’s theory of cinematic discursivity is intended to open up new approaches to the problem of the cinematographic representation of social issues in film 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 representations in contemporary cinema of the precarious condition of the forms of labor that most explicitly exemplify the tertiarization of Western capitalism in times of its crisis: artists, journalists, academics and other intellectuals and creative workers. Across different formats, genres, and national productions, she is researching the varied formal strategies that contribute to diverse and contradictory cinematic discourses. These 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. Triangulating discourse analysis, research on production, and reception studies, Cuter reads filmic texts as meta-reflections and self-representations of filmmakers working under conditions of financial and social insecurity, situating the films within current socio-political debates.


Hanna Prenzel

Research Associate and Ph.D. Candidate

Hanna Prenzel studied Art and French (BA), Art History in a Global Context with a focus on African Art (MA) and Arts and Media Administration (MA) in Berlin, Osnabrück, Rennes (France) and Dakar (Senegal), as well as Documentary Filmmaking at the self-organized film school filmArche in Berlin-Neukölln. She co-founded the queer-feminist filmmakers collective TINT. Her areas of interest include questions of ethics in documentary filmmaking, postcolonial theory, intersectionality and feminist film theory. Her contributions have been published in peer-reviewed journals and edited collections.

In her scientific-artistic research project, she examines feminist labor struggles and forms of resistance under precarious working conditions in so-called collaborative (collective as well as participatory) film productions. The object of analysis focuses on the correlation between collaborative productions and feminist labor struggles: wildcat strikes for better working conditions for women* (e.g. For Women – First Chapter, 1971), union organizing in the sphere of reproductive labor (e.g. The Nightcleaners, 1972-75), or decentralized individual strike strategies of precarious workers (e.g. A la Deriva [por los Circuitos de la Precariedad Femenina], 2003). In addition to the discursive analysis of social, political, and historical references in the filmic text, the collaborative and precarious conditions of the film productions are examined from a feminist-intersectional perspective.

The timelessness of collective work practices in film in and despite precarious working conditions is at the center of the artistic project: kollektiv (AT) negotiates collective agency and explores the history and today’s relevance of collective work in precarious conditions in Berlin. Therefore, it uses methods of artistic research: first, the reference to films of (queer)feminist film history and their links to the present, second, the filmic documentation of collective staging and thinking processes, and third, an interview-based survey of various collective work practices. kollektiv (AT) is realized collectivels and is a non-linear kaleidoscope of utopias and limits, agencies and contradictions, as well as the history and today’s relevance of collective work practices.


Paulina Malgorzata Peschken

Research Assistant

Paulina studied English and Cultural and Social Anthropology in Münster and Aberdeen and then worked for several years as a research assistant at the Münster University FilmLAB. There she was involved in planning and teaching classes on film theory and -production, and also worked on numerous science communication film projects. Since 2021 she has been studying screenwriting/ dramaturgy at the Filmuniversität Babelsberg KONRAD WOLF.


Jessica Hölzl

Research Assistant

Jessica completed her bachelor’s degree in German and theater studies while working for several years in the independent theater scene in Bavaria and NRW. She focused mainly on political theater in all its manifestations. She was part of the Zukunftsakademie Bochum, which dealt with post-migrant perspectives in theater. Since 2019 she has been studying in the MA Screenwriting/Dramaturgy at the Film University Babelsberg KONRAD WOLF. In her work as a writer, she is particularly interested in subversive narratives on topics such as classism, the effects of capitalism, and feminism.



Elisa Cuter: Autofiction of the Cognitariat: Self-Criticism of a Bourgeois Dog. In: International Journal of Film and Media Arts (2023) Vol. 8, Nº. 2: The Many Faces and Places of Precarity on Screen, pp. 70-88. DOI: 10.24140/ijfma.v8.n2.05.

Guido Kirsten: Gig Economy, Care Work, Zero-Hour Contracts. Zur Verhandlung prekärer Arbeit und ökonomisierter Zeit in Sorry We Missed You. In: Frauen und Film 71  (2023): Feministische Ökonomien und Zeitlichkeit (ed. Eva Kuhn).

Guido Kirsten: Subproletarische Milieus und semi-externe Fokalisierung. Zur Ambivalenz von American Honey. In: Film-Konzepte No. 66 (2/2022): Andrea Arnold (ed. Kristina Köhler).

Elisa Cuter: Né colpevolizzare né compatire. In: Jacobin Italia, No. 18 (2023), pp. 34-39.

Guido Kirsten: Zur Analyse des Armutsdiskurses in Shoes. In: Montage AV 31,2 (2022).

Christoph Büttner, Guido Kirsten: Editorial: Audiovisuelle Diskurse. In: Montage AV 31,2 (2022).

Guido Kirsten: Differenzerfahrungen und Klassenfragen: Überlegungen zum subjektiven Realismus von Fish Tank. In: Nach dem Film, No. 20 (2022).

Elisa Cuter, Guido Kirsten, Hanna Prenzel (Eds.): Precarity in European Film: Depictions and Discourses (Film, Class, Society Vol. 1). Berlin/Boston: DeGruyter.

Guido Kirsten: Bereichsrezension: Medien und Klassenfragen. In: MEDIENwissenschaft: Rezensionen | Reviews, Vol. 39 (2022), No. 2, pp. 176–181. DOI:

Hanna Prenzel: Felix T. Gregor: Die Un/Sichtbarkeit des Kapitals: Zur modernen Ökonomie und ihrer filmischen Repräsentation. In: MEDIENwissenschaft: Rezensionen | Reviews, Vol. 38 (2021), No. 3-4, pp. 325–326. DOI:

Guido Kirsten: Sammelrezension: Prekarität im Film. In: MEDIENwissenschaft: Rezensionen | Reviews, Vol. 38 (2021), No. 3-4, pp. 356–359. DOI:

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.