Lauren Berlant

George M. Pullman Distinguished Service Professor
Walker 505
Ph.D., Cornell University, 1985
Teaching at UChicago since 1984
Research Interests: Cultural Studies | Critical Theory | Historicism| Psychoanalysis| Aesthetics of the Case and the Exemplum | Theory and History of Citizenship, Decolonization, Migration | African American Literature and Black Studies | 19th/20th C American Literature

Lauren Berlant passed away on June 28, 2021. A virtual symposium to honor the life and work of Professor Lauren Berlant (1957-2021) featuring Romi Crawford, Sianne Ngai, and Katie Stewart will take place on November 5th, 2021. 

Link to Obituary





My work has focused on the affective components of social proximity in the U.S. from the nineteenth to the the twenty-first century: in particular, in relation to juridical citizenship, with its history of racial, gendered and class antagonism; radical, normative, and ambivalent modes of social belonging; and practices of intimacy as they absorb and throw their creative weight against legal, normative, and fantasmatic forces. My first three books—The Anatomy of National Fantasy, The Female Complaint, and The Queen of America Goes to Washington City—work with the concept of “national sentimentality” to get at the visceral and juridical forms of attachment involved with the nation, capitalism, citizenship, and sociality in everyday life.

Cruel Optimism, in contrast, hooks into the emerging ordinary of a world no longer capable of sustaining the fantasies of power, safety and flourishing that fuel national sentimentality. Social and aesthetic refusals to reproduce the predictable violence of racist, misogynist, class and heteronormative forms of life are also central to my work’s engagement with the bleed among power, bodies, and aesthetics. Politically related rhetorics of love and sentimentality too provide analytic material for engaging scenes of hierarchy and world-transformative attachment. Psychoanalytic, aesthetic, political, and ethnographic ways of processing structures and encounters also converge in writing about and toward heterotopian infrastructures.

Why and how do people stay attached to fantasies of a life that are also wearing them out? How is it possible to unlearn visceral responses that reproduce supremacist and privileged imaginaries of sovereign comfort and freedom? How to use the pleasures of attachment to make sustainable alter-worlds in the present that involve creative solidarity and critical judgment? What’s the relation between critique and transformative social vision? In these scenes of relation, state, juridical, and institutional practices tangle with more informal social conventions and movements. The work argues that trauma, injury, and the vitalizing social comedy of getting through things together are not exceptions to the ordinary but the disturbance we’re inside of as we make, refuse to reproduce, and move through, worlds.

Select Publications

  • Reading Sedgwick, ed. (Duke UP, 2019)
  • The Hundreds (Duke UP, 2019), written with Kathleen Stewart
  • “Comedy Has Issues,” with Sianne Ngai Critical Inquiry 43 (Winter 2017): 233-249
  • “Humorlessness (Three Monologues and a Hairpiece),” Critical Inquiry 43, 2 (Winter 2017): 305-340
  • “The Commons:  An Infrastructure for Troubling Times,” Environment and Planning D: Society and Space (2016), Vol. 34(3): 393–419
  • “Structures of Unfeeling:  Mysterious Skin,” The International Journal of Politics, Culture and Society (2015): 1-23
  • Sex, or the Unbearable, with Lee Edelman (Duke UP, 2014)
  • Desire/Love (Punctum, 2012)
  • Cruel Optimism (Duke UP, 2011), 2011 René Wellek Prize, American Comparative Literature Association
  • Heather Davis and Paige Sarlin, Interview with Lauren Berlant and Michael Hardt: "The Risk of a New Relationality" in Reviews in Cultural Theory, 2012.
  • “Thinking about Feeling Historical,” Emotion, Space, and Society 1, 1 (2008):
  • The Female Complaint:  The Unfinished Business of Sentimentality in American Culture (Duke 2008)
  • Compassion, ed. (Routledge, 2004)
  • Intimacy, ed.  (University of Chicago Press, 2001).
  • The Queen of America Goes to Washington City:  Essays on Sex and Citizenship. (Duke 1997).
  • The Black Public Sphere (as editorial member of the Black Public Sphere Collective), UChicago 1997.
  • The Anatomy of National Fantasy:  Hawthorne, Utopia, and Everyday Life (UChicago 1991).



  • The Present
  • Ordinariness: An Introduction
  • The US Historical Novel
  • Introduction to Theories of Sex & Gender
  • The Intimate Public Sphere
  • The Literature of Trauma
  • The Case Study
  • From Sentimentality to Affect Theory
  • Feminism and the Public Sphere


  • Theories of Gender and Sexuality
  • The Literature of Trauma
  • Sex and Ethics
  • American Literature Survey I, 1630-1850
  • Problems in Gender Studies
  • What’s Love Got to Do with It?: The Genres of Modern Romance