tfm | Research strategy 2031

Department for Theatre, Film and Media Studies | tfm

The Department of Theatre, Film and Media Studies at the University of Vienna is the only department at an Austrian university representing this discipline. Within the faculty, the activities of the department are situated in the thematic field of “aesthetic and medial dimensions of communication” and they concern the research and development focus “aesthetic communication and mediality” of the faculty; thus, we share common interests and have opportunities for cooperation with all philology departments and all cultural studies disciplines.

Internationally, the department stands out for its integrative approach to the fields of Theatre Studies, Film Studies, and Media Studies, which are often separated in teaching and research elsewhere. This special feature is made visible by the semi-annual Journal for Theatre, Film and Media Studies.

In addition to interweaving aspects of Theatre, Film and Media Studies in the Bachelor’s and Master’s programmes as well as some research contexts, the individual areas have developed an independent and specific profile:

• The Theatre and Performance Studies branch is internationally visible above all in its historiographical competence, as it situates institutionalised forms of theatre in the context of playful interactions in everyday life and in particular examines how theatrical forms emerged out of festival culture. Key questions focus on the connection of theatrical forms of play with anthropological conditions and societal dynamics.

• The Film Studies branch combines research and teaching competencies in the fields of history, theory and aesthetics of film. Specifically, it focuses on the historiography of cinema, poetics and politics of film, auteur cinema and film genres. In recent years, a distinguished research expertise has been developed in the areas of post-cinema and digital visual culture as well as in the study of ephemeral forms of film such as industrial, commercial and educational films.

• Media Studies is concerned with research on audio-visual and digital media, both in theoretical and historical perspective. The focus lies on the cultural impact of media and medial assemblages in regard to changing habits of communication and representation. The research topics are (a) developed from a micropolitical perspective and include remediations of class and gender in both fictional and documentary forms, (b) centred around mediated self-technologies, governmentality and medialities of affect, and (c) concerned with politics of representation especially with regard to television and social media. Media studies draws mostly on traditions from the humanities, selectively on those of social theory (like actor-network-theories, affect studies) and political theory.

All subject areas are characterised by a pronounced focus and expertise in Gender and Queer Studies.

Research foci

Feminist Theatre, Film, and Media Studies. Intersections of Gender, Sexualities, Race, Ableness, and Class

A main integral research focus at the Department, spanning theatre, film and media in both their historical approaches and paradigms, is analysis of intersections of gender, sexualities, race, ableness and class from feminist perspectives. All the key concepts of our disciplines – mediality, audience-media relations, apparatus, dispositifs, co-presence, performativity and performance – mark research foci of numerous qualification theses, book projects, third-party funded research projects and academic events such as international conferences. A great advantage of our department is the opportunity to form short-term collaborative research efforts in a cross- and transdisciplinary way in order to consider critical formations situated at these intersections. Thus, this research focus, which sets the Department at the University of Vienna from apart all other similar departments in the German-speaking academia, presents one of our most productive realms for scholarly reflection. In the future, significant impulses in this research focus will come from the third-party funded project “Queer Cinema Austria. Assembling LGBTIQ+ representations in Austrian Film, Video and Television 1906–2022”.

Staff involved: Monika Bernold, Andrea B. Braidt, Anke Charton, Adam Czirak, Theresa Eisele, Nicole Kandioler, Leonie Kapfer, Melanie Letschnig, Andrea Seier, Yvonne Sobotka, Jul Tirler.

Culture and Society in Southeast and Eastern Europe

Favoured by its geographical location as well as the specific sociology of the city of Vienna, our Department is engaged in cultural studies of Eastern and South-Eastern Europe, which also opens up a variety of collaborations within and outside the University of Vienna. The focus is on the transformation processes of post-socialist society and their negotiation through cultural practices and the arts. So far, our research expertise in this field has manifested itself mainly in publications such as Theatre in the Context of the Yugoslav Wars (Palgrave MacMillan 2018), edited by Senad Halilbašić, Jana Dolečki and Stefan Hulfeld; Performance Art in the Second Public Sphere: Event-Based Art in Late Socialist Europe (Routledge 2018), co-edited by Adam Czirak; Aktionskunst jenseits des Eisernen Vorhangs: Künstlerische Kritik in Zeiten politischer Repression (Transcript 2019) by Adam Czirak, Widerständige Nostalgie: Osteuropäische Film- und Fernsehkulturen, 1965–2013 (Transcript 2020) by Nicole Kandioler, and Kino unter Druck. Filmkultur hinter dem Eisernen Vorhang (Alexander 2021), co-edited by Lisa Gotto. In the future, significant impulses in this research focus will come from a third-party funded project in the subject area „Eastern European Media Studies“.

Staff involved: Adam Czirak, Lisa Gotto, Stefan Hulfeld, Nicole Kandioler, Varvara Šatunova.

Late Modern Subjectivity and Affect: Class and Gender in Film, Television and Digital Media

This area of research addresses late modern subjectivities and discontents across multiple media and subject areas. The analysis considers meritocratic as well as post-meritocratic notions of social im/mobility in fictional film and television as well as changing concepts of the everyday in documentary (moving) images within the last 20 years. The research is guided by an affect-theoretical approach. Core research questions within this field are related to a changing understanding and visual staging of everyday life under the conditions of an increasing precarisation, in which new insights in forms of repetition, routines and security are developed that could not be addressed by earlier theories of alienation. Increasing precarisation of forms of existence are also addressed within discourses of the Anthropocene, a new geological era that is currently becoming a subject of widespread discussion within the humanities and likewise within media studies. This area of research examines images and concepts of earth, garden and planet that shape our ways of relating to the conditions of human, animal and plant existence and structure our modes of imagination, thought and action. The analysis of implicit configurations of gender relations and social inequality is the focus of this area of research, which adopts a complex, intersectional approach. In order to expand this research area, various third-party funding applications are currently being prepared in cooperation with partners from German-speaking countries.

Staff involved: Andrea Seier PI, Monika Bernold, Daniel Gönitzer, Leonie Kapfer, Olivia Poppe, Yvonne Sobotka, Stephan Trinkaus, Thomas Waitz.

Post Cinema

This research focus of the Film Studies branch concentrates on questions of post-cinema and related transformational processes of digital image cultures. Following a conference hosted by the University of Vienna in 2018, central results of this research have been included in the 2020 anthology Hollywood im Zeitalter des Post Cinema. Eine kritische Bestandsaufnahme. These research activities are continuously expanded, most recently in the third-party funded project “ASMR as a new Intimacy Practice in Western Culture” (FWF). Addressing the post-cinematic phenomenon of ASMR (Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response) as a transgressive intimacy practice, the research project problematises the very process of human-machine interactions and interlacings, including a multifaceted interplay of aesthetic, affective and epistemological factors.

Staff involved: Lisa Gotto, Rayd Khouloki, Joanna Lapinska, Jan-Hendrik Müller, Joachim Schätz.

Film Practice in Austria

One primary research focus in film studies during the past seven years has been investigating film history from the perspective of media practice. This means that film is examined in its contexts of use. Joachim Schätz has created a groundwork with his project “Educational film practice in Austria” which studied the uses of film in educational contexts between 1918 and the late 1960s by highlighting practice as the linkage of screening dispositifs, institutional policies, pedagogical concepts and film forms. Another focus lies in the research activities concerning experimental film practices in Austria. Various members publish about contemporary innovative film and/or are involved as research experts in juries at funding-bodies (Federal Ministry for Arts, Culture, the Civil Service and Sport; Film Festival advisory council, City Council of Vienna) or distribution bodies (sixpackfilm).

Staff involved: Lisa Gotto, Rayd Khouloki, Joanna Lapinska, Jan-Hendrik Müller, Joachim Schätz, Angelika Beckmann, Monika Bernold, Andrea B. Braidt, Nicole Kandioler, Melanie Letschnig.

Global Contemporary Theatre and Performance Cultures

A research focus that is broadly anchored in teaching and specifically oriented in individual projects is dedicated to present-day theatrical forms, including music theatre and dance. The present is not understood as in opposition to history; rather, performance traditions permeate contemporary art practices, which in turn can be analytically situated in their historical context. In terms of theoretical foundations, the focus is on socially connoted transformations of theatrical means, but also on exchange relations within the framework of “theatrical globalisation”. In addition to PhD projects and conference activities, significant impulses in this research focus can be expected from the third-party funded project “Dramaturgy after Postdramatic Theatre” led by Adam Czirak.

Staff involved: Adam Czirak (PI), Anke Charton, Theresa Eisele, Stefan Hulfeld, Lisa Niederwimmer, Isolde Schmid-Reiter.

Professional Actors since the Early Modern Era

The development of professional theatre structures in Europe since the Early Modern period constitutes a field of knowledge with many diverse intersections between anthropological, social, artistic, religious and philosophical questions. Since this phenomenon, which is very much shaped by mobility and cultural networks, is still predominantly studied from a national language perspective, our approaches aim at the interplay between dominant trends and local forms of expression, as applied e.g. in Spieltexte der Comœdianten vol. 1 (2020), based on a third-party funded project. This research focus, which understands professional actors as the centre of theatre historiography, also looks at long periods of time, since phases of rejection or commercialisation of professional performance techniques can only be recognised in this way as recurring patterns that relate dialectically to concepts of authenticity. Current research activities include the third-party funded project “Practices and Projections: On Siglo de Oro theatre”.

Staff involved: Anke Charton, Theresa Eisele, Stefan Hulfeld, Lisa Niederwimmer.

Archive / Forgotten History

The department has its own archive, which serves as a starting point for successful projects on the history of theatre studies as well as the history of knowledge in general, which also centrally consider methodological questions of digital humanities. The department’s archive had been neglected and forgotten for decades. Through a first exhibition and publication “Wissenschaft nach der Mode? Die Gründung des Zentralinstituts für Theaterwissenschaft an der Universität Wien 1943” in 2008, a large audience took notice of our department’s Nazi origins. Birgit Peter, together with librarian Martina Cuba and a group of dedicated students trained in special research seminars, worked continuously on indexing further holdings and researching their provenance. With the relocation of the collection to the new facilities in the vicinity of the Theatre, Film and Media Studies Library, further valuable materials were found, which could be restored. At the same time, a new permanent exhibition on the Department’s own Nazi-era past was conceived and opened under the title “Völlig fraglich. Vergessene Geschichte”. On this basis, it was finally possible to realise the third-party funded project, “Ideology of the Collection and Historiography” (FWF, 2017–2022). A further third-party funded project entitled “History of Theatre Studies: Switzerland/Austria” under the direction of Birgit Peter will start in 2023 and focus on this field of investigation (FWF-WEAVE program).

Staff involved: Birgit Peter (PI), Martina Cuba, Theresa Eckstein, Klaus Illmayer, Sara Tiefenbacher.

Alexander Kluge as a Multimedia Artist

Research on the work of the multimedia artist Alexander Kluge stands at the centre of the activities of a research group that is closely linked in terms of personnel with research on Walter Benjamin and on international auteur film, see:

Following several book publications and two international research conferences (Vienna 2010 and Liège 2013), the international Alexander Kluge Yearbook has been published by V&R unipress since 2014. A workshop is held for each volume of the series, in which the volumes are presented and further research perspectives are discussed. All activities within this focus can be understood as fundamental preliminary work for the Alexander Kluge Handbook, which is already in preparation and will be published by J. B. Metzler.

Staff involved: Christian Schulte (team leader), Daniel Gönitzer, Birgit Haberpeuntner, Yvonne Sobotka, Florian Telsnig.

Walter Benjamin and the Film and Media Theory of the Modern Era

This research area concentrates on the late-career production (from 1928 onwards) of the philosopher and critic Walter Benjamin. The two focuses are on his film and media theory and his crisis-diagnostic insights of the early 1930s. These two topics have been explored in two anthologies as well as in two corresponding workshops. The volume Walter Benjamin und das Kino (Walter Benjamin and Cinema), published in 2018, can be considered a milestone in these efforts.

Staff involved: Christian Schulte (team leader), Daniel Gönitzer, Birgit Haberpeuntner, Yvonne Sobotka, Florian Telsnig.

Opera and Other Forms of Music Theatre

Opera research requires an approach rooted in Theatre Studies and its methods with a multi-perspective view that includes scenic realisation. This makes it possible to research opera as a culturally and historically significant phenomenon without relying on individual disciplinary aspects that would otherwise reduce this rich field to an object of specialised scholarly study. A whole series of projects take place mostly within the organisational framework of the European Academy of Music Theatre, which is linked to the Department through the General Secretary who serves as chairwoman of the board. In collaboration with opera houses such as the Vienna State Opera, Opera Vlaanderen Antwerp/Ghent, and the Grand Théâtre de Genève and academic institutions like the Department of Music Aesthetics of the University of Lisbon, topics were explored in international conferences that focused on motifs, dramaturgy, composers, and specific artistic means of staging and resulted in five internationally acknowledged book publications between 2014 and 2020, among them Opera Staging: Erzählweisen (2014), Judaism in Opera (2017) and Worttonmelodie: The Challenge of Singing Wagner (2020). Furthermore, the research field of “children’s opera” has been documented in invited talks and publications and been the subject of public outreach projects (program books and DVD booklets).

Staff involved: Isolde Schmid-Reiter.

Planned addition of focal points

Most of the above-mentioned research foci are to be continued and expanded in the coming years. In addition, the following five research areas are to be developed.

Theory and Aesthetics of Digital Media

After the Professorship for Intermediality was advertised as a Professorship for Theory and Aesthetics of Digital Media, this field is now one of the future research foci. Digital media and their impact on society have become a focus of many research activities, especially in communication studies. In contrast, the professorship based at our Department emphasises the theoretical and aesthetic dimensions of practices resulting from digitalisation. Everyday cultural, artistic, political and social transformation processes that take place under the conditions of digital media are to be explored, but also conditions and practices of digital knowledge culture as well as the geo-body politics of digital media.


Following the establishment of the faculty MediaLab and the creation of a tenure track position for Neuromediality, which is partly assigned to our department, a new research focus is to develop in the next few years in collaboration with Ass.-Prof. Anja-Xiaoxing Cui, which will investigate the production and reception of artistic practices in an interweaving of quantitative and qualitative methods.

Performance Studies

As the aspect of the performative production of culture has been centrally elaborated in various fields of Linguistics and Cultural Studies, the concept of performance holds the potential of a common theory development for Theatre, Film and Media Studies. We therefore define Performance Studies as a future research focus to be expanded upon, also in order to profile the cultural theoretical foundations of the faculty.

Post-colonial Theater, Film, and Media Studies

The critique of artistic and cultural production from the vantage point of post colonialism has – internationally – become a central focus of research (and teaching). As a research focus, post-colonial critique is seen as a development field that is to be both expanded in terms of mainstreaming all other fields as well as in terms of the denomination of a future position.

Sound and Space

In our view, the faculty research and development focus on “Aesthetic Communication and Mediality” remains to be expanded, since acoustic and spatial dispositifs are of concern in addition to linguistic and visual communication, which are often at the centre. For this reason, a research focus on sound and space needs to be developed. Within the department the focus on sound and space as well as the focus on performance studies allow the cooperation of all branches and brings theatre, film and media studies perspectives in in a productive dialogue.