The Politics of Participatory Performance: Capitalism and Identity
Cummings, Hannah Jane
Thesis or dissertation
University of Exeter
Reason for embargo
Embargo for a standard period of 18 months because I wish to publish papers using material that is drawn from the thesis.
This thesis is located within the discourse of contemporary, participatory performance. It offers a cultural materialist reading of the relationship between neoliberal capitalism and identity, and its adjunct community, to consider the extent to which participatory performance might challenge the individualistic aspects of the neoliberal ideology. The thesis questions what it means to participate in capitalist democracy in the contemporary moment, interrogates how one might exercise participatory agency both within and outside the theatre space and contemplates the function of participatory performance in a period of democratic discontent. I argue that the case-studies contribute to creating communities of individuals thinking about how to develop capitalist democracy in a more egalitarian direction. The thesis primarily employs close performance analysis of nine case-studies that all occurred in the period 2013-2014. These analyses occur across three chapters that each address a differing form of participation. Chapter One considers the significance of the re-presentation of performer acts of participation within demarcated theatre spaces, challenging the concept of the successfully, aspiring neoliberal identity. Chapter Two focuses on acts of audience participation invited within conventional theatre auditoriums to defamiliarise one’s motivations for acting or not. And Chapter Three centres on immersive performance experiences in which the audience member becomes the art object, inviting them to recognise their indebtedness to others. The thread that coheres this broad cross-section of participatory performance practices is their desire to use the act of participation and the platform of performance to reconceive of what it means to do politics by using artistic and cultural means. Collectively, the case-studies advocate the need for continued co-operation with others and the on-going co-creation of meaning, which eliminates knowing, outcome and end-result, to challenge instrumental understandings of political progress. The thesis conclusion asserts this point by considering the shared theatrical techniques employed across the case-studies that destabilise binary modes of thinking to enhance their ethico-political potential. It also reflects on this argument in light of the election of a majority Conservative (neoliberal) government in 2015.
AHRC via University of Exeter
PhD in Drama