15.10. – 24.10.

Lecture Series: Beyond the Pressure to Perform: On the Concept of „Leistung“ in 19th Century Germany

Nina Verheyen, Mercator Research Fellow at the KWI

University of California, Berkeley

„Leistung“ is a key concept of public debates in Germany today, and even though the term itself has a rather neutral or positive meaning – „work performance“ would be an adequate translation – the debates it is used in very often have a negative connotation. These debates deal with the quantification of performance in so-called neoliberal times, the spreading of all forms of competition between individuals in everyday life and the increasing pressure to perform caused by these trends.

Against this background, the talk addresses the concept of „Leistung“ from a cultural historian’s perspective. It argues that the current usage of the term slowly started to emerge during the 19th century along with the spreading of social practices that measured, compared, evaluated, rated and payed for seemingly individual performance. This obscured the amount of collaboration fundamental to every kind of work, especially in a globalized, entangled world. Furthermore, the semantics of the term went way beyond this. „Leistung“ was a key legal category earning importance alongside the emerging welfare state, and it was also linked to friendship and sociability – forgotten social traces, that the talk will also illuminate.

The lecture is part of the Gerda Henkel Lecture Series „Beyond the Pressure to Perform: On the Concept of „Leistung“ in 19th Century Germany“. Verheyen further speaks at the University of Southern California, Los Angeles and the UC San Diego.

Dates of the lecture series
15.10.19 Unifersity of California, Berkeley
22.10.19 University of Southern California
24.10.19 University of California, San Diego