Hello Kitty and International Relations Workshop

12th June 2015
Wolfson Research Exchange (Room 1 & 2)
University of Warwick


Shocking news was revealed about Hello Kitty on her 40th birthday in summer 2014: ‘Hello kitty is not a cat – she’s a British girl’ named Kitty White and lives with her sister and parents in suburban London. But this has hardly affected the global popularity of this character created by the Japanese company Sanrio in the 1970s. Her fandom has a large following around the world. She can be seen in Tokyo, New York, or Rio de Janeiro. 25,000 fans flocked to her convention in Los Angeles last year. The world’s first Hello Kitty theme park opened in China.

Illuminating on the intersection of popular culture and international relations (IR), the Hello Kitty and International Relations workshop aims to explore deeper, more nuanced understandings of IR through an interdisciplinary dialogue on the Hello Kitty phenomenon. International relations is not defined here as a narrow subfield in politics, but an interconnecting constellation with cultural, social, economic, and linguistic implications. It is the production of ‘relations international’ (Christine Sylvester) that incorporates questions of gender, relations among ethnic/racial groups and bridges between local and regional communities.

In the spirit of the aesthetic turn in IR (Roland Bleiker), this workshop recognises Hello Kitty’s potential to invite us to challenge granted dogmas in everyday life, interrogate in new ways global issues that affect our life-worlds, and reinvigorate silenced or marginalised debates. Above all, despite her commodification, she is an artistic expression that reifies and epitomises hope in and for the everyday. As the Japanese-American conductor Kent Nagano claims, the main purpose of art is to plant the seed of hope, through impassioning our innermost feelings.

This ubiquity of Hello Kitty is a result of her ‘emptiness’, or what Roland Barthes calls ‘the empty sign’ that embodies ‘an empty point-of-affluence of all its occupations and its pleasure’. Christine Yano’s recent monograph on Hello Kitty concurs: Hello Kitty ‘inhabits the “thingness” of the “thing” in the physical properties of cuteness she brings to meaning making’. Hello Kitty is then a ‘liminal space’ to posit academic conjectures on the everyday and the international.

This workshop welcomes contributions from a variety of approaches that discover Hello Kitty’s relevance in the contemporary world, especially in consideration to the three following sub-themes:

– Resurgence of the global (political) subjects
– Performing IR in everyday life
– Speaking in silence: reconstructing marginalised voices in IR

Keynote Roundtable Speakers: Dr Kyle Grayson (Geography, Politics and Sociology, Newcastle), Dr Griseldis Kirsch (Languages and Cultures of Japan and Korea, SOAS) and Dr Erzsébet Strausz (Politics and International Studies, Warwick)
Registration: Please contact Misato Matsuoka (m.matsuoka@warwick.ac.uk) by 5th June; limited spaces are available

Event programme

Categories: Conferences


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