Tracing the challenges of co-performance as 'hightened participation'
(Ruskin College, Oxford)
Paper short abstract:
This paper explores the challenges of co-performance as a form of embodied participation. In particular, drawing on fieldwork on political and social theatre in Nepal, I conceptualise co-performance as 'hightened participation'.
Paper long abstract:
Ethnographic research entails deep immersion into a specific social world to the point in which the ethnographer, having taken up a role, becomes a member of a community; their actions and words almost go unnoticed. Rendered 'invisible', the ethnographer's body becomes a powerful tool to understand tacit, embodied knowledge, as well as the gaps between what people say and what they do. Co-performance, in which the ethnographer dances, sings and acts with a group, is regarded as a precious tool to unveil embodied knowledge about performance traditions and foster cultural rapport (Conquergood 1985, 2013; Turner 1975, 1988; Askew 2002; Barber 2000; Cole 2001; Afzal-Khan 2005; Seizer 2005). However, co-performance often ends by rendering visible the ethnographer's body, exposing it to the public gaze. Grounded on comparative literature from the anthropology of performance and fieldwork carried out in Nepal on social and political theatre, this paper aims to discuss the challenges of co-performance as another form of embodied participation. I will draw on Schechner's idea of performance as 'hightened behaviour' (1995), separate from daily life, to conceptualise co-performance as 'hightened participation'. Co-performance can thus be conceived as a method through which the ethnographer plays a role within-a-role as well as a public statement of the ethnographer's membership to a theatre group. But what does co-performance add to participant observation? Why are ethnographers allowed to co-perform? When and on what terms? How does co-performance happen? What type of rapport and knowledge does co-performance generate? Does co-performance undermine the ethnographer's ability to observe?
Doing ethnography through the body