Ben Nichols has specialisms in queer theory, literature and culture, as well as in twentieth-century literature and culture more broadly. His research has focused on using readings of literary and cultural objects to question aspects of critical theory. His first monograph Same Old: Queer Theory, Literature and the Politics of Sameness (2020) rethinks the aversion to ‘sameness’ seen in queer theory and other similarly-structured critical theory fields. By uncovering a history of queer literary investments in ideas such as the status quo, reproduction, normativity, and reductionism, the book interrogates the frameworks that define queer inquiry. Related research has been published in GLQ and the Henry James Review.

At the ICI Berlin he is beginning a new project that develops his interest in sameness. The central aim of this project is to try out a position from within the humanities that is not necessarily opposed to ‘standardization’. Beyond this, he maintains an active interest in queer theory and culture. Before coming to the ICI Berlin, Ben held a postdoctoral fellowship at IASH, University of Edinburgh, and completed a PhD in English at Kings College London.

Living with Standards: Towards a Cultural History of Standardization
ICI Project 2020-22

Due to its associations with conformity, centralization, and authority, ‘standardization’ is often viewed as an unwelcome aspect of modern governmentality. Theoretical scholarship tends to read it as a mechanism of power and control. Sociological scholarship tends to focus on particular formal standards and the exclusions they entail. Both approaches are mainly hostile to standardization and often fail to treat it as a cultural idea that extends beyond the formation of technical standards.

What is missing is a cultural history of standardization, attuned to how cultural production shows the entry of this phenomenon into manifold aspects of life. This wider view is crucial for surfacing how standardization can be a socially and affectively valuable force in human lives. This project will develop protocols for such a history by focusing on how cultural production illuminates the entry of standardization into areas that may seem most resistant to it — sex, personality, and work — during the earlier part of the twentieth century, often described as standardization’s ‘golden age’.