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Performance studies

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Performance studies

Performance studies is the academic field concerned with the study of performance in any of its various forms. The term 'performance' is broad, and can include artistic and aesthetic performances like concerts, theatrical events, and performance art; sporting events; social, political and religious events like rituals, ceremonies, proclamations and public decisions; certain kinds of language use; and those components of identity which require someone to do, rather than just be, something. Consequently, performance studies is interdisciplinary, drawing from theories of the performing arts, anthropology and sociology, literary theory, and legal studies.[1][2]

Performance Studies has been challenged as an emerging discipline. Many academics have been critical of its instability. As an academic field it is difficult to pin down; either that is the nature of the field itself or it is still too young to tell. There are, however, numerous degree-granting programs that train researchers being offered by universities. Some have referred to it as an "inter discipline" or a "post discipline."[3]

Performance Studies tends to concentrate on a mix of research methods. The application of practice-led or practice-based research methods has become a widespread phenomenon not just in the anglophone world. As such research projects integrate established methods like literature research and oral history with performance practice, i.e. artistic autoethnographic approaches and verbatim theatre. The documentation of Practice-as-Research in Performance (PARIP), a devoted research project conducted at the University of Bristol between 2001 and 2006, offers a number of inspiring articles and portraits of such research projects and was key for a breakthrough of using creative thinking within this subject field.[4]


  • Origins of and basic concepts in performance studies 1
    • Theatre and anthropology 1.1
    • Literature 1.2
    • Speech-act theory and 'performatives' 1.3
  • Academic programs in performance studies 2
  • Performance studies and performance art 3
  • Chronology of Developments in the field 4
    • 1965 4.1
    • 1980 4.2
    • 1981–82 4.3
    • 1984 4.4
    • 1990 4.5
    • 1993 4.6
    • 1995 4.7
    • 1996 4.8
    • 1997 4.9
    • 1997 4.10
    • 2001 4.11
    • 2005 4.12
  • Controversies 5
  • See also 6
  • References 7
  • External links 8

Origins of and basic concepts in performance studies

Theatre and anthropology

Performance Studies as an academic field has multiple origin narratives. On the theatrical and anthropological front, this origin is often regarded as the research collaborations of director Richard Schechner and anthropologist Victor Turner. This origin narrative emphasizes a definition of performance as being "between theatre and anthropology" and often stresses the importance of intercultural performances as an alternative to either traditional proscenium theatre or traditional anthropological fieldwork. Dwight Conquergood developed a branch of performance ethnography that centered the political nature of the practice and advocated for methodological dialogism from the point of encounter to the practices of research reporting. Barbara Kirshenblatt-Gimblett has contributed an interest in tourist productions and ethnographic showmanship to the field, Judd Case has adapted performance to the study of media and religion,[5] Diana Taylor has brought a hemispheric perspective on Latin American performance and theorized the relationship between the archive and the performance repertoire, while Corinne Kratz developed a mode of performance analysis that emphasizes the role of multimedia communication in performance.[6] Laurie Frederik argues for the importance of ethnographic research and a solid theoretical base in anthropological perspective.


On the literature front, Wallace Bacon (1914–2001), considered by many to be the father of performance theory, taught the performance of literature as the ultimate act of humility. In his defining statement of performance theory, Bacon writes, "Our center is in the interaction between readers and texts which enriches, extends, clarifies, and (yes) alters the interior and even the exterior lives of students [and performers and audiences] through the power of texts" (Literature in Performance, Vol 5 No 1, 1984; p. 84). In addition, Robert Breen's text Chamber Theatre is a cornerstone in the field for staging narrative texts, though it remains controversial in its assertions about the place of narrative details in chamber productions. Breen is also regarded by many as a founding theorist for the discipline, along with advocate Louise Rosenblatt. More recently, performance theorist and novelist Barbara Browning has suggested that narrative fiction itself - and particularly the novel - demands the performative participation of the reader.[7]

Speech-act theory and 'performatives'

An alternative origin narrative stresses the development of speech-act theory by philosophers J.L. Austin and Judith Butler, literary critic Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick, and also Shoshana Felman. The theory proposed by Austin in How To Do Things With Words states that “to say something is to do something, or in saying something we do something, and even by saying something we do something.”[8] the most illustrative example being "I do," as part of a marriage ceremony. For any of these performative utterances to be felicitous, per Austin, they must be true, appropriate and conventional according to those with the proper authority: a priest, a judge, or the scholar, for instance. Austin accounts for the infelicitous by noting that “there will always occur difficult or marginal cases where nothing in the previous history of a conventional procedure will decide conclusively whether such a procedure is or is not correctly applied to such a case.”[9] The possibility of failure in performatives (utterances made with language and the body) is taken up by Butler and is understood as the “political promise of the performative.”[10] Her argument is that because the performative needs to maintain conventional power, convention itself has to be reiterated, and in this reiteration it can be expropriated by the unauthorized usage and thus create new futures. She cites Rosa Parks as an example:

When Rosa Parks sat in the front of the bus, she had no prior right to do so guaranteed by any…conventions of the South. And yet, in laying claim to the right for which she had no prior authorization, she endowed a certain authority on the act, and began the insurrectionary process of overthrowing those established codes of legitimacy.[11]

The question of the infelicitous utterance (the misfire)is also taken up by Shoshana Felman when she states "Infelicity, or failure, is not for Austin an accident of the performative, it is inherent in it, essential to it. In other words…Austin conceives of failure not as external but as internal to the promise, as what actually constitutes it.[12]

Performance studies has also had a strong relationship to the fields of feminism, psychoanalysis, critical race theory and queer theory. Theorists like Peggy Phelan,[13] José Esteban Muñoz,[14] E. Patrick Johnson,[15] Rebecca Schneider,[16] and André Lepecki have been equally influential in both performance studies and these related fields.

Academic programs in performance studies

Performance studies incorporates theories of drama, dance, art, anthropology, folkloristics, philosophy, cultural studies, psychology, sociology, comparative literature, communication studies, and increasingly, music performance.[17] More can be found out by reading Schechner's book: Performance Studies: An Introduction or in D. Soyini Madison and Judith Hamera's The Sage Handbook for Performance Studies.[18] The first performance studies department was created at NYU. However, there is some debate that the joint-cradles of Performance Studies are Northwestern University and NYU. For more information on the different origins and disciplinary traditions of performance studies see Shannon Jackson's book Professing Performance and the introductory chapter in Nathan Stucky and Cynthia Wimmer's Teaching Performance Studies.[19] Generally the differences between the NYU and Northwestern models cite different disciplinary concerns. NYU is generally characterized as a program that pushed the definitions of theatrical practice influenced by the thearical avant-garde thus expanding its definition of what can be framed as an event. Interaction with departments that include NYU's Postdoctoral Program in Psychoanalysis and Psychotherapy have made this an ongoing pursuit. Northwestern transitioned from an elocution and performance of literature tradition to expand its definition of presentational aesthetics beyond oral interpretation. Northwestern's unique brand of performance studies has its origins in anthropology, having been started by the ethnographer Dwight Conquergood with the goal of understanding all manner of local cultures through their performance practices. In both instances a focus on practice lead to a research methodology beyond theatre or literature/speech. In the United States, the interdisciplinary and multi-focus field has spread to Brown, UCLA, University of Northern Iowa, UCI, UC Berkeley, and elsewhere. Undergraduate and graduate programs are offered at UC Davis, UC Irvine, Kennesaw State University, Louisiana State University, Southern Illinois University Carbondale, California State University, Northridge, San Jose State University, University of San Diego, University of Maryland, and the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill. Texas A&M University’s Department of Performance Studies is unique in including both Music and Theatre degree programs.

In the United Kingdom Aberystwyth University offers a degree scheme in performance studies with highly acclaimed performance artists such as Mike Pearson, Heike Roms and Jill Greenhalgh. The University of Roehampton in London offers a BA in Drama, Theatre and Performance Studies. Richmond University, London also offers a BA in Performance and Theatre Arts.

In Denmark Roskilde University offers a master and ph.d. degree in "performance design", focusing on subjects such as theatrical performances, live music, festivals, and urban performances.

In Germany University of Hamburg offers a master program in performance studies at the centre for performance studies run by Gabriele Klein. The Centre for Performance Studies at the University of Bremen offers a certificate in performance studies focussing on the combination of academic and artistic research within performance projects.

In India, the research initiatives of Centre for Performance Research and Cultural Studies in South Asia (cpracsis) focus on redefining methodologies of cultural studies and research on the basis of the nuances of performance studies.

In Australia, the University of Sydney, Victoria University and Queensland University of Technology offer degrees majoring in performance studies, Honours, Masters and Phd. Performance Studies in some countries is also an A-level (AS and A2) course consisting of the integration of the discrete art forms of Dance, Music and Drama in performing arts.

In Brazil, The Universidade Federal de Goiás, started an interdisciplinary program (masters) in Performances Culturais (Cultural Performances) in 2012, the first in a Latin country. The goal of this program is to analyze "rituals, games, performances, drama, dance" from a cross-cultural point of view.

A new generation of researchers have also joined the faculty ranks at these and other institutions and evidence the continued expansion and rejuvenation of the field. These scholars include: Patrick Anderson (UCSD), Christine Balance (UC Irvine), Stephanie Batiste (UCSB), Robin Bernstein (Harvard), Henry Bial (Kansas), Rachel Bowditch (ASU), Bernadette Marie Calafell (University of Denver), Brandi Catanese (Berkeley), Renee Alexander Craft (UNC), Jill Dolan (Princeton), Laurie Frederik (Maryland), Craig Gingrich-Philbrook (Southern Illinois), Brian Herrera (Princeton), Branislav Jacovljevic (Stanford), Suk-Young Kim (UCSB), Jill Lane (NYU), Eng-Beng Lim (Brown), Jeffrey Q. McCune, Jr. (WUSTL), Paige McGinley (WUSTL), Jisha Menon (Stanford), Tavia Nyong'o (NYU), Tony Perucci (UNC), Jennifer Parker-Starbuck (Roehampton), Kirsten Pullen (Texas A&M University), Ramon Rivera-Servera (Northwestern), Theresa Smalec (CUNY), Matthew Spangler (San Jose State), Shannon Steen (Berkeley), David Terry (San Jose State), Alexandra Vasquez (Princeton), Shane Vogel (Indiana), Erin B. Mee (NYU), Sara Warner (Cornell), E.J. Westlake (Michigan), Maurya Wickstrom (CUNY), Stacy Wolf (Princeton), Patricia Ybarra (Brown), and Harvey Young (Northwestern).

Performance studies and performance art

Performance studies has a long-standing and complex relationship to the practice of performance art, also known as live art or visual art performance.

Some key companies and practitioners who are widely considered to be working within this field include: Karen Finley, Robert Lepage, Ariane Mnouchkine and the Theatre du Soleil, Robert Wilson, Forced Entertainment (UK), Pina Bausch, Trisha Brown, DV8 Physical theater, The Wooster Group (New York), Anne Bogart and The Siti Company (New York), The Builders Association (New York), Jan Fabre (Belgium), and Transversal Theater Company (Los Angeles & Amsterdam). Other artists, generally outside the European avant-garde theatre, who have been instrumental to the development of analysis in the field include: Marty Pottenger (Northwestern University, Oral Interpretation), Carmelita Tropicana, Holly Hughes, Tim Miller, Annie Sprinkle, John Leguizamo, Guillermo Gomez-Peña, Coco Fusco, Ruby Tru, Linda Montano, Vaginal Davis, Lois Weaver, Peggy Shaw, Anna Deavere Smith, Robbie McCauley, Marga Gomez, Dan Kwong, Diamanda Galas, Ron Athey, Reverend Billy, Ana Mendieta, Deb Margolis, Terry Galloway, Eric Bogosian, Danny Hoch, Quentin Crisp, Justin Bond and Kenny Mellman aka Kiki and Herb, Rachel Rosenthal, Spalding Gray, Laurie Anderson, Rhodessa Jones, Bill T. Jones, Luis Alfaro, Reno, John Fleck, Keith Hennessy and Meredith Monk.

Chronology of Developments in the field

Though Wallace Bacon (1914–2001), is considered by many to be the father of Performance theory, at least as it developed at Northwestern, others hold that Victor Turner and Richard Schechner's intense involvement in the U.S. avant-garde art scene of the 1960s gave rise to the discipline.


The publication of the article 'Approaches' by Schechner in the Tulane Drama Review, in which he articulated that 'performance is an inclusive category that includes play, games, sports, performance in everyday life, and ritual' was just the beginning of his insight about the fluid spectrum of theatrical activity. "Broad Spectrum Approach" was one of many subsequent works of influence.


The addition of the subtitle 'Journal of Performance Studies' by the Drama Review signaled its more inclusive approach to performative behavior.


Turner, an anthropologist and articulator of a continuum of 'theatrical' behavior in his book From Ritual to Theater, invited Schechner to help plan a ‘World Conference on Ritual and Performance.’ Three related conferences were held during that year.


A second major Performance Studies department begins in the U.S. at Northwestern University.


New York University holds the first U.S. Performance Studies conference to celebrate the 10th anniversary of its Performance Studies department.


A 'performance studies' focus group forms within The Association for Theater in Higher Education (ATHE).


Peggy Phelan chairs ‘Performance Studies: The Future of the Field,’ a conference attended by upwards of 500 people as a follow-up to New York University’s 1990 gathering.


Northwestern University holds a second Performance Studies conference.


Georgia Tech hosts the third Performance Studies conference.


This year was marked by the foundation of Performance Studies international the first worldwide association devoted solely to Performance Studies. Performance Studies international is a professional association that promotes communication and exchange between scholars and practitioners working in the field of performance. It has staged numerous international conference and festival gatherings.


Membership in ATHE’s Performance Studies focus group reaches 450.


Performance Studies international 12 was held at Brown University, 30 March – 1 April. Its name, ‘Becoming Uncomfortable,’ was taken from Brown President Ruth Simmons’ university lecture, in which she stated that students must ‘become uncomfortable in order to grow, in order to build an education, a life, a world.’


Richard Schechner was a professor of drama, first at Tulane University, then at New York University, before he became interested in integrating the field of theater with numerous other disciplines. At least two of his former students wrote significant criticisms of the new field.

In TheaterWeek, Richard Hornby wrote that the field of performance studies must embrace acting theory and traditional Euro-American theater if it is to have any value. Performance Studies, at least as Schechner had come to it, had little to do with stage performance, Hornby maintained.

Davi Napoleon went further in the pages of the same magazine. "Performance Studies doesn't have the integrity of any discipline," she wrote. "It's not a mix of theater and other performing arts, such as dance and opera, though these are included. ... There are classes in Aesthetics and Everyday Life, Autobiography and the Performing Self, Creativity in Covergence and Creolization ... Performance studies covers everything, and those who want to study something, such as theater history, cannot."

Schechner said he did not reject theater but expanded the department at NYU by bringing in other disciplines. "I can eat pasta and also eat sushi."

Napoleon countered that pasta and sushi are both foods, while archeology and theater are not both performing arts. "Moreover, Performance Studies students don't digest two fields. They sample from a smorgasbord of disciplines without troubling to learn any. It may appear to be interdiscipinary, but Performance Studies is really anti-disciplinary." Napoleon also quotes Michael Kirby, a colleague of Richard Schechner's at NYU who felt Schechner was taking the department in the wrong direction.

See also


  1. ^ "Sophie Hunter Physical Theatre". 
  2. ^ "A Student Guide to Performance Studies" (PDF). 2011. 
  3. ^ Schechner, Richard. "Foreword: Fundamentals of Performance Studies," Nathan Stucky and Cynthia Wimmer, eds., Teaching Performance Studies, Southern Illinois University Press, 2002. P.x
  4. ^ Allegue, L., Jones, S., Kershaw, B., & Piccini, A. (2009). Practice-as-Research in performance and screen. Basingstoke.
  5. ^ Case, J. A. "Sounds from the Center: Liriel's Performance and Ritual Pilgrimage" Journal of Media & Religion, October 2009, 209–225.
  6. ^ Kratz, Corinne A. Affecting Performance: Meaning, Movement and Experience in Okiek Women's Initiation, Smithsonian Institution Press, 1994 (new edition, Wheatmark 2010).
  7. ^ Browning, Barbara. Dear Reader': The Novel's Call to Perform"'". YouTube. The Book Lovers. Retrieved 12 August 2014. 
  8. ^ Austin, J. L. How To Do Things With Words. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1962. P. 94
  9. ^ Austin, J. L. How To Do Things With Words. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1962. P. 31
  10. ^ Butler, Judith. Excitable Speech : A Politics of the Performative. New York: Routledge, 1997 P. 161
  11. ^ Excitable Speech : A Politics of the Performative. New York: Routledge, 1997 P. 147
  12. ^ Felman, Shoshana Scandal of the Speaking Body: Don Juan with J.L. Austin, or Seduction in Two Languages P. 45-46
  13. ^ Phelan, Peggy. Unmarked: The Politics of Performance. London; New York: Routledge, 1993
  14. ^ Muñoz, José Esteban. Disidentifications: Queers of Color and the Performance of Politics. University of Minnesota Press, 1999.
  15. ^ E. Patrick Johnson. Appropriating Blackness: Performance and the Politics of Authenticity. Duke University Press, 2003
  16. ^ Schneider, Rebecca. The Explicit Body in Performance. London ; New York: Routledge, 1997.
  17. ^ See e.g. Nicholas Cook and Richard Pettengill (eds.), "Taking It to the Bridge. Music as Performance", University of Michigan Press, 2013; Nicholas Cook, "Between Process and Product: Music and/as Performance", in: "The Online Journal of the Society for Music Theory", Vol. 7, No. 2, April 2001; Philip Auslander, "Music as Performance: Living in the Immaterial World," in: "Theatre Survey", Vol. 47, No. 4, Fall 2006"; Melanie Fritsch and Stefan Strötgen, "Relatively Live: How to Identify Live Music Performances", in: "Music and the Moving Image", Vol. 5 No. 1, 2012 (March), p. 47–66.
  18. ^ Madison, D. Soyini and Judith Hamera, eds. The Sage Handbook for Performance Studies. SAGE 2006
  19. ^ Stucky, Nathan and Cynthia Wimmer, eds. Teaching Performance Studies. Southern Illinois University Press, 2002.
  • Napoleon, Davi. Transcending Substance in TheaterWeek 20 November 1995.
  • Hornby, Richard. Against Performance Theory in TheaterWeek 17 October 1994.
  • Lepecki, André. Of the Presence of the Body: Essays on Dance and Performance Theory. Middletown: Wesleyan University Press, 2004.
  • Taylor, Diana. The Archive and the Repertoire: Performing Cultural Memory in the Americas. Durham: Duke University Press, 2003.
  • Women and Performance: A Journal of Feminist Theory
  • Schechner, Richard. Between Theater and Anthropology. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1985.

External links

  • Performance Studies Academic Programs, Institutes, Centers, Professional Associations
  • Hemispheric Institute of Performance and Politics
  • PerformanceStudies.Org
  • The Drama Review – NYU
  • Women and Performance Review
  • Performances Culturais – Brazil
  • Performance Studies Hamburg
  • Performance Studies UC Davis
  • Performance Studies Bremen
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