Wednesday, 18 October 2017

Performativity and Parlance

We define a thing by naming it, but then is our understanding of that thing limited by the description itself.

How does this inform our individuality in society and culture? We looked at examples of gender, sexual orientation, and race, and the ways in which these societal constructs are defined inform the performativity of these roles.

Image Source: www2.naz.edu

Words have power: Austen describes the use of the spoken word as a performative, to signify or imply action (such as the phrase “I declare war”), or in the case of a wedding ceremony where both the spoken word combined with ritual action in order to complete the performance. Butler writes that we understand our social reality through the words we use to describe that reality: “social agents constitute social reality through language, gesture, and all manner of social sign.”[1]

I find this quite Orwellian, and Debby Thompson also highlights the relationship between “language and […] power”.[2]  I feel that this also reflects Conquergood’s critique of the social power of the written word and the textrocentralism of the Euro-American culture.

Orwell, 1984, Chapter 5

Our words, actions, and intentions are only available and understood within a societal construct: Austin refers to these as “appropriate circumstances”[3] which include convention of procedure and the acceptance of witnesses. Convention and circumstances circumscribe our words, actions, and, Butler argues, our identities, which are, she argues “instituted through a stylised repetition of acts.”[4].  This recalls Schechner’s theory of Restored Behaviour[5]: our identities are described through language and reinforced through performativity.

Butler’s argument considers gender could be said to be subjective rather than prescriptive. Many cultures already recognise more than two genders, and Facebook has recently given users the option of 71 different gender identities,[6] which leads to the conclusion that if gender is constructed through performativity, then there are as many ways of performing an individual identity as there are people: using the body as a performative signifier.

Image Source: reddit.com

Gender and race are described through language, understood through the behaviour associated with the description, and reinforced through restored behaviour, in the same manner as Turner’s cycle of social drama[7]. Butler writes that “the body becomes its gender through a series of acts which are renewed, revised, and consolidated[…]”[8] and that “the appearance of substance is precisely that, a constructed identity, a performative accomplishment which the mundane social audience, including the actors themselves, come to believe and to perform in the mode of belief.”[9] Thompson, writing on the performativity of race, states that it “is experienced both as a fact and as a trope.”[10] both as a fact, and as a social performance. 

Would our actions within a culturally assigned role of individual ‘gender’ and a ‘race’ be different if we weren’t conditioned in expectations of associated behaviours within the social constructs of these identities?

Naming a woman as such places her within a discrete social performative contract. Identifying race and describing it proscribes an expectation and opposition; definition in opposition – by what an object, action, or individual is not. Butler writes that “it is primarily political interests which create the social phenomena of gender itself […]”[11] and Thompson writes that “Ideological state apparati make us experience ideological structures as deeply personal, natural and instinctive.”[12]

Image Source: forbes.com

Butler states that that a gender definition is “an historical situation rather than a natural fact.”[13] If, as Austin writes, what we name a thing defines what it is, and proscribes meaning, and Butler believes that performative action reinforces the restored behaviour, then a binary gender identity can be understood as a social construct and not an unassailable fact. However, if a society defines normative behaviour within binary gender roles, this can cause problems for those who do not ascribe to this simplistic model of behaviours.

Because the descriptive language used to define gender are inextricably linked to those which we use to define sex, then “within the terms of culture it is not possible to know sex as distinct from gender.”[14] and it is difficult to imagine agency beyond these definitions.

Image Source: thesocietypages.org

Is through expanding both our linguistic understanding and our experience of performativity that socially constructed behaviours can become an expanded field of identities.









[1] Judith Butler, ‘Performative Acts and Gender Constitution: An Essay in Phenomenology and Feminist Theory’, Theatre Journal, 40.4 (Dec 1988), P.519.
[2] Debby Thompson, ‘”Is Race A Trope?”: Anna Deveare Smith and the Question of Racial Performativity’, African American Review, 37.1 (Spring 2003), P.134.
[3] J.L. Austin, Lectures 1 and 2 in How to Do Things With Words, 2nd edn, ed. by J.O. Urmson and Marina Sibsà (London: Oxford University Press, 1976), P.6.
[4] Judith Butler, ‘Performative Acts and Gender Constitution: An Essay in Phenomenology and Feminist Theory’, Theatre Journal, 40.4 (Dec 1988), P.519.
[5] Richard Schechner, ‘Restoration of Behaviour’, in Between Theater and Anthropology (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1985), P.38.
[6] Rhiannon Williams, 'Facebook's 71 gender options come to UK users', The Telegraph, 27 June 2014
[7] Victor Turner, ‘Social Dramas and Stories About Them’, in From Ritual to Theatre: The Human Seriousness of Play (New York: PAJ Publications, 1982), P.66.
[8] Judith Butler, ‘Performative Acts and Gender Constitution: An Essay in Phenomenology and Feminist Theory’, Theatre Journal, 40.4 (Dec 1988), P.523.
[9] Ibid., P.520.
[10] Debby Thompson, ‘”Is Race A Trope?”: Anna Deveare Smith and the Question of Racial Performativity’, African American Review, 37.1 (Spring 2003), P.127.
[11] Judith Butler, ‘Performative Acts and Gender Constitution: An Essay in Phenomenology and Feminist Theory’, Theatre Journal, 40.4 (Dec 1988), P.529.
[12] Debby Thompson, ‘”Is Race A Trope?”: Anna Deveare Smith and the Question of Racial Performativity’, African American Review, 37.1 (Spring 2003), P.129.
[13] Judith Butler, ‘Performative Acts and Gender Constitution: An Essay in Phenomenology and Feminist Theory’, Theatre Journal, 40.4 (Dec 1988), P.520.
[14] Ibid., P.524.

Friday, 6 October 2017

Ritual Performance

Rituals, and ritual behaviour, inform both the everyday life and the aesthetic art of a culture.

Agnicayana
Image Source: allempires.com

Schechner writes about the reproduction of various forms of ritual, such as the Agnicayana,[1] which was staged for filmic purposes. All performance, both ritual, everyday and aesthetic is subject to the Hawthorne effect: subjects modify their behaviour when observed. Or “the act of observing changes that which is being observed.” Even context changes the interpretation, and interpretation changes, to the observer, the action. In the case of the Agnicayana ritual, the original behaviours were changed due to filming and location constraints, but also because of modern-day sensibilities - substituting wrapped vine leaves in place of sacrificial goats. The past has been changed for the present.

Here modern behaviour has altered past behaviour, and therefore any future interpretation of this behaviour. In theatre, it is the ephemerality of performance which lends it impact, and the performance can only be understood in its present moment, which has been previously discussed.

Can we read the past within the confines and conventions of the present? If behaviour is formed from socially conditioned restored behaviours, then it can only be understood within the conventions of the context in which it was produced, which may conflict with our present understanding and/or conditioning.

Image Source: BT.com

Ritual performances, which have been staged for the purposes of being recorded and preserved carry their own form of ‘staged authenticity’ – they become the ‘original’ and form the basis for future reference.

There is an inherent contradiction in the idea of an ‘original reproduction’. Here the act of filming the ritual has changed it already through intercultural intervention – what was once a religious rite has become entertainment. Future reproductions based on the recording, which itself was Restored Behaviour, will inevitably change the interpretations of this ‘original’ behaviour.

Even performances in film and television, are subject to a faking of authenticity, in that behaviours on screen are rehearsed, codified and recorded. And ‘original film’ may be a splicing of many different takes, angels, and interpretations.

Often, ritual is reproduced as art. In India the ancient Bharatanatyam Dance has been resurrected: the ‘new’ dance is based on ancient temple art and sculpture. In the more recent past the same dance was performed as entertainment by prostitutes, who also claimed the dance as part of a history of temple performance. The ‘new’ dance stated that the more recent incarnation was a ‘corruption’ of the farther past, and that they have ‘purified’ and ‘renewed’ the true original. This is the past redefining the past in order to make it palatable for the present. This kind of history-rewriting-history can also be seen in ballet: the Paris Opera Ballet girls were referred to as “rats”, and were considered to be little more than prostitutes, but the modern incarnation of ballet stresses its royal roots from the court of King Louis XIV, and is now considered to be ‘high art’.

Dancing in the Attic of the Paris Opera House, ca. 1930
Image Source: vintag.es

When ritual, or culture, is commodified, it leads to the uncomfortable subject of cultural appropriation. Schechner writes that “Restorations need not be exploitations.”[2]
In the case of the
Bharatanatyam Dance it is now a cultural signifier and is taught and performed across the world. Culture has been commercialised and commodified, and, as a performance art, has been dictated and driven by the consumer.

As this develops further, arts become a commercialised commodity: culture as a signifier of a privileged class. Schechner refers to “…genres of industrial leisure...”[3], reflecting the classification of culture to be something sold and consumed.

The conflict here is that cultural behaviours can die out without commercial interest, and cultures change to integrate this. For example, the Hula dance was originally performed by mature women – I would interpret this to reflect the power of matriarchy, fertility, and the feminine. However, to attract tourists, the modern dance is performed by young, slim, commercially ‘beautiful’ girls, which naturally changes the cultural interpretation but has, in turn, become part of the emic culture. Here commercial interests have changed a culture. In the case of the Mudmen of the Asaro River Valley, a ritual dance appears to have been created specifically to attract tourists, and the home culture has created a cultural history in order to present the dance as something emic. The creation itself has become part of the authentic culture.

This reflects Conquergood’s idea of the colonialization of culture, and what has been previously discussed – an etic view can only see what the emic culture wishes to display.
Turner writes about the pros and cons of different approaches to anthropology: “There are then both etic and emic ways of regarding narrative.”[4] As previously discussed, we learn both through analysis and immersion: the ‘emic’ view which is inherent from within a culture and the ‘etic’ view which is from without and tries to be general and objective. We carry our own emic bias, even when trying to be etic and this influences our views and readings. In part, I believe that homogenised Western culture creating a worldwide emic culture that is recognised even from an etic experience, influencing both our reading of a performance/behaviour, and the performance/behaviour itself.

Theyyam Fire Dance
Image Source: youtube.com

Performance sometimes develops directly out of ritual. Turner recognised this, writing “Often when ritual perishes as a dominant genre, is dies, a multipara, giving birth to ritualized progeny, including the many performative arts…”[5] Performance grows out of Restored Behaviours, and ritual, or ceremony, informs performative action within a culture. For example the Haka Dances, which are “…a fierce display of a tribe’s pride, strength and unity […] still used during Māori ceremonies and celebrations…”[6]  What was traditionally a war dance or ceremonial rite is now a cultural signifier, tourist attraction, and performance art.

Beautifully, also Turner writes that “…Ceremony indicates, ritual transforms…”[7] and Schechner recognises that “Immediately before going on stage, most performers engage in some ritual.”[8] This is literally ‘transforming’ into character.




[1] Richard Schechner, ‘Restoration of Behaviour’, in Between Theater and Anthropology (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1985), from P.55,
[2] Ibid., P.65.
[3] Ibid., P.86.
[4] Victor Turner, ‘Social Dramas and Stories About Them’, in From Ritual to Theatre: The Human Seriousness of Play (New York: PAJ Publications, 1982), P.65.
[5] Ibid., pp.79-80.
[7] Victor Turner, ‘Social Dramas and Stories About Them’, in From Ritual to Theatre: The Human Seriousness of Play (New York: PAJ Publications, 1982), P.80.
[8] Richard Schechner, ‘Restoration of Behaviour’, in Between Theater and Anthropology (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1985), P.105.

Thursday, 5 October 2017

Behave Yourself

Behaviours are learned and displayed in both everyday life and in aesthetic performances. Schechner writes that we learn behaviour from birth through social and cultural conditioning, or “…a continuous training by osmosis”[1]

Image Source: jessiejreynolds.com

Any interaction is a relationship system. We could say that an interaction starts with an actor and a spectator or an audience. However, we are, at all times, both the spectator and the spectated. An observer observes, but is, in turn, being observed.

Within society we perform behaviours depending on how we want other people to see us. Goffman writes that “…the individual will have to act so that he intentionally or unintentionally expresses himself, and the others will in turn have to be impressed in some way by him.”[2] Schechner explores this in the context of performance studies, writing that “A ‘performance’ may be defined as all the activity of a given participant on a given occasion which serves to influence in any way any of the other participants.”[3]

We modify our behaviour depending on the situation and the expectations of behaviour within that context. We rely on social conditioning and previous experience, which dictate the behaviours appropriate to the context. “…any arrangement is conventionalised and conditioned by particular world and/or political views […] From birth, people are immersed in the kind of social performative actions…””[4]

Image Source: imgflip.com

Turner states that “We never cease to learn our own culture, let alone other cultures, and our own culture is always changing.”[5] And Schechner writes that “In this epoch of information and reflexive hyperconsciousness we not only want to know, we also want to know how we know what we know.”[6] Taken together I believe this reflects our changing behaviours in society in response to a hyperawareness of ‘self’ in relation to the ‘other’. Modified displays of behaviour are represented as original on social media, presenting an idealised version of ourselves for consumption (as Goffman depicts through his ‘Preedy’ example[7]). We perform the role we want others to see us as. 

“In a very real way the future – the project coming into existence through the process of rehearsal – determines the past […] rehearsals make it necessary to think of the future in such a way as to create a past.”[8]

In both the everyday and the aesthetic performance, what we want as an outcome determines our actions in the present. Schechner depicts this as the 12, or the ‘me now’ → ‘someone else’.[9] This is depicting both the process of ‘getting in to character’ and also the ‘future self’. For example, when attending an event, one takes care to dress in a manner appropriate to the future setting, to convey the impression that one wishes to give, which also ties in to Goffman’s theory of presentation.

I have written before that I believe a Culture is both the creator of, and created by, its culture. Cultural conditioning and expectations dictate our behaviours in both the everyday and aesthetic performance. Schechner writes that “There is also a continuum linking the ways of presenting the self to the ways of presenting others: acting in dramas, dances, and rituals. The same can be said for “social actions” and “cultural performances”…”[10] This also reflects Turner’s theory of a cultural feedback loop, which places behaviour as a reflection of culture, and culture within the context of behaviour – Literally cultural conditioning! When cultures change, so does the normative behaviour within that culture. A society creates and conforms its own methods of normal communication and behaviour, and ‘normal’ can only ever be ‘normative’ within the context of the home culture.

Image Source: icosilune.com

How a society understands itself is rooted in the origin myths their culture creates, and this, in turn, provides a frame of reference which informs present actions and behaviours. Schechner writes that “Restored behaviour offers to both individuals and groups the chance to rebecome what they once were – or even, and most often, to rebecome what they never were but wish to have been or wish to become.”[11]

A society chooses its own ‘culture-bearer’ – Schechner uses an example from the village of Magendo in Papua New Guinea – and whether the culture-bearer is a historical or mythological figure, they have placed upon them the qualities a group desires to embody. Turner states that there is a “…relationship between this foundation narrative and the political structures…”[12] of a society. How a society wishes to be seen, or sees itself, in the present informs the qualities and behaviours bestowed upon their past, which in turn informs their behaviours in the present and the future. The ways in which a society is structured informs the action within that society. The behaviours and structures of a society inform the theatre that can be created.

Turner, P.72.

There is a relationship between social dramas and aesthetic performance. It is a feedback loop, in which social drama affects artistic output, Artistic output provides a frame of reference for action, which then informs actions during social drama. In Schechner’s terms, this “Restored behaviour is living behaviour… the main characteristic of performance.”[13] Restored behaviour is a repeat, or rearrangement of previously learned behaviours, reconstructed according to new societal norms or the expected behaviour in a given context which has been standardised and presented.

Expectations of behaviour vary across different cultures and cultural groups. Turner defines one behavioural grouping as “…our “star” group or groups to which we owe our deepest loyalty…”[14] Turner suggests that some of these star groups are obligational, incidental or accidental, such as family, age group, nationality, etc., but that we choose other star groups for ourselves, based on, for example, shared interest. Recently, Michelle Obama stated that she believed that those women who voted for Trump in the 2016 Elections voted against their own voice. Taking Turner’s theory in to account, Obama has assumed that identification to being female should have been the overriding concern, but, for many women who voted Trump, their affiliation to the Republican values were of a higher priority. Behaviours within a star group define our belonging to that caucus, such as Colin Kaepernick’s ‘Take A Knee’ gesture, which others have started to emulate in order to identify, or show solidarity with, that social grouping.

“{…] social dramas {…] can be aptly studied as having four phases. These I label: breach, crisis, redress, and either reintegration or recognition of schism. Social dramas occur within groups bounded by shared values and interests of persons and having a real or alleged common history.”[15]

Turner’s theories of Social Drama and Star Groups can be seen in both artistic performances and in the everyday. For example, in the context of Brexit the breach was the referendum campaign and the realisation of a schism in the country, and the breach exposes identification to a star group. The crisis is the continuing aftermath of the vote itself. The redress needs to be the finding of mechanisms to recognise and repair the social construct. And the redress will lead to either reintegration (of society or within the EU) or schism (either from the EU or within the UK).

However, as Turner says: “…redress may be through rebellion, or even revolution, if the societal value-consensus has broken down...”[16] A social drama, like an aesthetic drama, depends on the individual’s point of view or the context in which the original breach occurred. For example, one person’s redress may be another’s crisis.

Storming of the Bastille
Image Source: historiek.net

As with every aspect of existence, personal bias informs our interpretation of an event or a behaviour. Janine Willis and Alexander Todorov ascertained that it took around one-tenth of a second for a person to form a first impression.[17] We form this impression, and assign judgements of behaviour based on cultural conditioning and past experience, and expect certain behaviours within these conventions.

When these conventions are corrupted, expected modes of behaviour break down, or, as Goffman states, assumptions can “…become untenable…”[18] Culture has conditioned us to cast people as stereotypes. For example, the ‘goody’ or the ‘baddy’. When individuals act outside of these proscribed caricatures our expected response behaviours are not supported.

Goffman writes that “…the witness is likely to have the advantage over the actor…”[19] Meaning that our presentation of ‘self’ is always determined by the observer’s point of view, and that we are always defined in opposition to the observer, the ‘not I’. Schechner views this through the prism of performance:

“…acting is both false and true, because acting is a playful illusion – as is the world itself. The boys who represent/are the gods in Ramlila are both “playing at” and “being” the gods […] theater is the art specialising in the concrete techniques of restoring behaviour […] While performing [an actor] no longer has a “me” but has a “not not me” […] The spectators do not “willingly suspend disbelief.” They believe and disbelieve at the same time.[20]

Our own experience of behaviour provides a subjective placement to a context within the created constraints of the performance. However restored behaviour can become behaviour proper as rehearsal and repetition allows a behaviour to ‘go in to the body’.  An actor is both themselves and the character. They both ‘are’ and ‘are not’ themselves, and both ‘are’ and ‘are not’ the character they are portraying.
  




[1] Richard Schechner, ‘Restoration of Behaviour’, in Between Theater and Anthropology (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1985), P.41.
[2] Erving Goffman, ‘Introduction’, in The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life (Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1959) P.14.
[3] Richard Schechner, ‘Restoration of Behaviour’, in Between Theater and Anthropology (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1985), P.26.
[4] Ibid., P.40-1.
[5] Victor Turner, ‘Social Dramas and Stories About Them’, in From Ritual to Theatre: The Human Seriousness of Play (New York: PAJ Publications, 1982), P.64.
[6] Richard Schechner, ‘Restoration of Behaviour’, in Between Theater and Anthropology (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1985), P.109.
[7] Erving Goffman, ‘Introduction’, in The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life (Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1959) P.16.
[8] Richard Schechner, ‘Restoration of Behaviour’, in Between Theater and Anthropology (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1985), P.39.
[9] Ibid., P.38.
[10] Ibid., P.37.
[11] Ibid., P.38.
[12] Victor Turner, ‘Social Dramas and Stories About Them’, in From Ritual to Theatre: The Human Seriousness of Play (New York: PAJ Publications, 1982), P.66.
[13] Richard Schechner, ‘Restoration of Behaviour’, in Between Theater and Anthropology (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1985), P.35.
[14] Victor Turner, ‘Social Dramas and Stories About Them’, in From Ritual to Theatre: The Human Seriousness of Play (New York: PAJ Publications, 1982), P.69.
[15] Ibid.
[16] Ibid., P.71.
[17] Janine Willis, Alexander Todorov, ‘First Impressions’, in Psychological Science Volume 17, Issue 7, 2006.
[18] Erving Goffman, ‘Introduction’, in The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life (Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1959) P.23.
[19] Ibid., P.20.
[20] Richard Schechner, ‘Restoration of Behaviour’, in Between Theater and Anthropology (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1985), pp.97-113.