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Nora Ruck


Training Location(s):

PhD, University of Vienna, (2012)

MA, University of Vienna, (2005)

Primary Affiliation(s):

Sigmund Freud Private University , (2013 - Present)

Media Links:

Nora Ruck at Sigmund Freud University


Psychology's Feminist Voices Oral History Transcript


Oral History Excerpt on YouTube: Developing a Feminist Identity

Oral History Excerpt on YouTube: Importance of Mentors

Oral History Excerpt on YouTube: Continuing in University



Career Focus: Critical psychology; feminist psychology; history and theory of psychology; body studies; cultural psychology.


Nora Ruck has been surrounded by feminism from a very young age; however it was not until she was immersed in her graduate studies that she embraced her own feminist consciousness. Born April 13th 1981 in Ried im Innkreis, a small town in Northern Austria, Ruck was raised in a home in which both the education and the empowerment of women were valued. Both her mother and her father communicated that she could do everything she aimed for irrespective of her gender. Although her feminist identity emerged in her mid-twenties, Ruck believes it could have developed earlier due to the strong presence and influence of her mother. While she never explicitly labeled herself as a feminist, Ruck’s mother valued feminist ethics and encouraged her children to do the same. As Ruck notes, “…when I moved into my first apartment she gave me a drilling machine because she thought every woman should have a drilling machine so [laughs] this is the kind of person she is.” Not only did she teach her two daughters stereotypically masculine skills and support their participation in sports, she also exposed them both to feminist literature. As a result, by her early adolescence, Ruck was no stranger to literary works that addressed feminist themes. In particular, German author Christa Wolf and Austrian author Ingeborg Bachmann strongly influenced her.


Despite these positive experiences, Ruck admits that she developed a distaste for feminism in her younger years after her parents divorced, a development that she partly attributed to her mother’s strong feminist values at that time. Although she was a good student, her frustration with institutionalized education led her engagement in school to falter. Troubles in school coupled with familial stress led her to discover the therapeutic effects of painting. Inspired by her own constructive encounter with art, Ruck wrote her first pre-scientific paper on art and “Lebensbewältigung,” a German term for “coping with life.” With her interest in psychology sparked, Ruck set out to become an art therapist.


Ruck began her career path to art therapy at the University of Vienna where she pursued a degree in Psychology. Three years into her studies, Ruck decided that she needed a change and went abroad to The Netherlands where she attended the University of Nijmegen for a year. While she intended to complete coursework that focused on clinical interviews, social psychology, and personality psychology, her trajectory changed radically when she discovered the university’s focus on cultural psychology. Never before exposed to this particular branch of psychology, Ruck was fascinated when she enrolled in a course taught by Cor van Halen on Self and Culture. This course sparked a new academic focus, and van Halen urged her to continue her university education beyond her Masters degree. Unable to transfer to the University of Nijmegen to complete her degree, Ruck returned to the University of Vienna and there encountered Prof. Thomas Slunecko, who was the only professor at the institution whose research focused on cultural psychology. Under Slunecko’s supportive supervision, Ruck completed her thesis and graduated in 2005. Shortly after, she enrolled in the doctorate program of the University of Vienna.


Ruck’s doctoral years were filled with self-discovery and increasing independence. With her research interests moving so much beyond experimental psychology, she did not qualify for a position as university assistant at the University of Vienna and had to rely on independent research funding. Scholarships allowed her to fully concentrate on research and the relatively unstructured doctoral studies at the University of Vienna did not require much coursework. Supervised once again by Thomas Slunecko, she enjoyed this intellectual and academic freedom to engage with feminist literature. She read contemporary feminist scholars such as Susan Bordo and Kathy Davis. The experience triggered a reformation of her identity and a change in research focus. Originally interested in body modification and plastic surgery, Ruck soon realized that psychology had much more to say about beauty and aesthetics. Unsatisfied with the perspectives depicted in psychological literature, Ruck focused her dissertation on a feminist critique of psychological research on physical attractiveness. This led to her involvement in a year-long collaborative project with Bernadette Wegenstein, a filmmaker and research professor at John Hopkins University in Baltimore, Maryland. In 2011, Ruck and Wegenstein published a peer-reviewed article entitled Physiognomy, Reality TV and the Cosmetic Gaze which merged their respective interests and disciplines. In this article they argued that contemporary views of beauty are shaped by modern media which often portray physical bodies as flawed and in need of cosmetic improvement. That same year she worked with Wegenstein again when she contributed a book chapter entitled Beauty Normalized: Normalization and Optimization of the Human Body to the book, Cosmetic Surgery. Medicine, Culture, Beauty. Ruck spent the last three years of her doctoral studies as part of a transdisciplinary doctoral team focusing on the feminist critique of science. Collaborating with sociologist Julia Hertlein, philosopher Iris Mendel, and psychologist Julia Riegler would turn out to be the most formative experience both for her scientific and for her feminist identity, revealing to her the importance of transdisciplinary and collective work for critical research.


In 2012, Ruck graduated from the University of Vienna with distinction, an honour made even more memorable since she was the first member of her immediate family to earn a university degree. She then began psychotherapeutic internships in late 2012 with Zentrum für Seelische Gesundheit Leopoldau, the first outpatient therapeutic-rehabilitation clinic for individuals suffering from mental illness in Austria, and Hemayat, a support centre for survivors of war and torture that combines therapy with social critique and public awareness.  Following her placement work, Ruck was awarded a fellowship by the European Commission, which financed her academic position at the Department of Psychology at Sigmund Freud Private University starting in 2013. At this private institution that encourages the expression of social values, Ruck has had the academic freedom to incorporate feminist theories and critiques into her course curricula. Engaging her students in discussions on power structures and gender inequalities, Ruck strives to create a dialogue in her classroom that breaks down stereotypical perspectives on feminism and that allows students to discover and follow their own paths. Most recently, her academic career has taken her to Toronto where she is a Marie Curie International Outgoing Fellow in the History and Theory of Psychology Program, the Centre for Feminist Research, and the Institute for Science and Technology Studies at York University.


With a growing number of articles, book chapters and journal issues to her credit, Ruck  is an ambitious and dedicated academic. She is also interested in building feminist community. When asked about the status of feminist psychology in the Austrian context, Ruck notes the current absence of an organized group of feminist scholars in the German speaking countries. She may very well change this. When asked about her current research, Ruck remarks that she is increasingly interested in “how critical strands within psychology reconcile their social values with their scientific commitments.” Feminist psychology, of course, being a case in point.  


by Jeahlisa Bridgeman (2014)

To cite this article, see Credits

Selected Works:


Ruck, N. (2009). Some historical dimensions of the ‘dialogical body’: From Bakhtin’s dialogical grotesque body to the monological body of modernity. Psychology and Society, 2(1), 8-17.


Ruck, N. (2011). Beauty normalized: Normalization and optimization of the human body in cosmetic surgery and psychological attractiveness research. In B. Wegenstein (Ed.), Cosmetic surgery: Medicine, culture, beauty. Living Books About Life Series.


Ruck, Nora (2012). Kritische Sozialpsychologie als Wissenschaftskritik.Evolutionspsychologische Attraktivitätsforschung als Naturalisierung neoliberaler Geschlechterverhältnisse. Psychologie und Gesellschaftskritik142/143, 83-106.


Ruck, Nora & Zielke, Barbara (2012). Special Issue »Kritische Sozialpsychologie«,Psychologie und Gesellschaftskritik142/143.


Ruck, N. (2013). Darwinian aesthetics? Criticizing the good-gene hypothesis of physical beauty. In A. Marvakis, J. Motzkau, D. Painter, G. Sullivan, R. Korir-Ruto, S. Triliva & M. Wieser (Eds.), Doing psychology under new conditions (pp. 31-40). Concord, CA: Captus Press.


Wegenstein, B. & Ruck, N. (2011). Physiognomy, reality TV, and the cosmetic gaze. Body & Society, 17, 27-54. 


Interview with Nora Ruck: Developing a Feminist Identity

Interview conducted on October 23, 2013 by Alexandra Rutherford in Toronto, ON, Canada.


Interview with Nora Ruck: Importance of Mentors

Interview conducted on October 23, 2013 by Alexandra Rutherford in Toronto, ON, Canada.


Interview with Nora Ruck: Continuing in University

Interview conducted on October 23, 2013 by Alexandra Rutherford in Toronto, ON, Canada.