Being with another: performance, co-presence, and the transmission of the ineffable
(University of South Florida)
Paper short abstract:
This presentation considers performance as a sensory encounter that transmits and transcends experiential knowledge through a case study of activists in a South African social movement.
Paper long abstract:
How do marginalized individuals constitute oppositional publics? What are the interiorities of such opposition? How are these interiorities transmitted during fieldwork and through ethnographic writing? The challenge of articulating one's experience, as well as that of apprehending another's, persists in making meaning of research encounters. Such a challenge is compounded when research entails grappling with the (in)accessibility of human suffering. The experience of poverty is often rendered defeatingly invisible and inscrutable to those distanced by social positioning. This presentation considers the contributions of performance in grappling with these challenges through a case study of activists in a South African social movement opposing their continued marginalization despite the country's democratic turn. I focus on the potential of performance to evoke and transmit seemingly impenetrable emotions and sensory experience. I show how the activists with whom I worked relied on performance practices including freedom songs and protest dances to convey the depth of ineffable sensations and emotions. I consider my own sensorial receptivity and attempts to establish co-presence, in particular how the manner of my listening, and the embodied experiences that I shared facilitated the kinds of intersubjective engagement I sought to understand. Finally, I discuss how performance remains critical to post-fieldwork ethnographic praxis. Performative writing and performance ethnography as dissemination methods re-configure and transcend fieldwork experiences. Challenging scriptocentric engagement, performance enlivens, introducing an emergence fraught with possibilities for manifesting something that exceeds our knowledge.
Sensational knowledge: emotional and sensory encounters as ways of knowing