Accepted Paper:

Performance as Ethnography: Debating Muslimness in Manchester  


Asif Majid

Paper short abstract:

This paper highlights major debates that appeared in a process of making theatre with British Muslim youth in Manchester. It argues that performance is a valuable knowledge-making tool when embedded in ethnographic contexts.

Paper long abstract:

Research on applied theatre has increasingly recognized the power of theatre to underline social dynamics, particularly in reference to applied theatre scholar James Thompson's call for more "theatre action research," in which making theatre is the process of addressing community-specific issues (2006: 149-150). Yet the making of theatre requires awareness of the affective dimensions of art as well, and it is this attention to emotion that marks the arts as cultivating a form of knowledge beyond the cognitive. Education theorist Howard Gardner's (2006) notion of "multiple intelligences" points to the various knowledges that appear across a range of activities, and the debates that appeared when making theatre with British Muslim youth underscore these intelligences.

My focus here is on those debates that were the most passionate and elicited the greatest controversy, inspired by the theatre activities facilitated. As collaborators generated fictional characters and created storylines for them, their opinions about what it means to be a British Muslim youth in Manchester today came to the fore. Performance was the vehicle that generated knowledge about those who engaged with it, just as it created "beautiful, radiant things" in the process of doing so (Goldman, 1934: 56). This tension, of making knowledge and creating beauty, was apparent throughout the devising process, and it underscores the power of performance to be, itself, ethnography.

Panel P059
"Culture in Action": Between Performance and Ethnography