"Culture in Action": Between Performance and Ethnography
Location Senate House South Block - Room G16
Date and Start Time 01 Jun, 2018 at 11:30
Sessions 3


  • Styliani Papakonstantinou (Dilos School of Acting, Athens, Greece) email

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Short abstract

The scope of this panel would be to attract academics and artists who have conducted ethnographic research on performance in the fields of theatre, dance and music. Their presentations will be paper-based supported by any kind of relevant audiovisual material to illustrate their work.

Long abstract

Theatre, dance and music provide a fruitful ground of observations in culture specific contexts and since they all derive from ritual and tradition, they also provide a great body of knowledge for both performers and observers. The specific panel aspires to bring together researchers and artists who view performance on theatre, dance and music through the lens of ethnographic case study and thus share any practical, theoretical and methodological knowledge they accumulated during their research, with a wider audience. Performance and 'acting' in theatre, dance and music is about transformations and metamorphoses through which stories are narrated and a message is conveyed to the audience. Theater, dance and music ethnographers are able to observe the analogies between the action that takes place in a performance and the human condition, within a specific cultural context.

The presentations are going to be distributed equally among researchers of theatre, dance and music performance with a fifteen-minute paper-based presentation of their work accompanied by a ten-minute audio/visual material. The material can be a short film, photographic footage, recorded visual or audio interviews with performers or anything else that the participants think fit in order to illustrate their work, generate fruitful discussion and exchange of ideas. The integration of audiovisual footage on the one hand and of performance and ethnography on the other, will assist in looking critically at the multiplicity of forces that shape artistic work on the canvas of social interactions.

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.


"The community is a family and the choir is the glue": music and belonging in Gaiman

Author: Lucy Trotter (London School of Economics) email

Short abstract

This paper draws on long-term ethnographic research with a Welsh community living in Gaiman, a village in the Chubut province of Argentina to explore the role of music in creation and consolidation of social relationships.

Long abstract

This paper draws on long-term ethnographic research with a Welsh community living in Gaiman, a village in the Chubut province of Argentina to explore the role of music in creation and consolidation of social relationships. It argues that whilst sheet music alone cannot create feelings of belonging, we should not deny that sheet music is created with intentionality, in social and political contexts. This has further pertinence in a context in which the composers and those who write the lyrics live and work within the community. Structure and lyrics are important and they do help in some way; the positive and harmonious portrayal of social relationships in music, especially of the relations between Wales and Patagonia provides at the very least a platform for these types of sentiments. It combines a structural analysis of music with an ethnographic exploration of music and belonging from participant observation in Gaiman music school (more specifically in mixed choir rehearsals), hymn singing sessions, musical interactions of outsiders with their community and music as therapy. Across these varied situations, the fundamental message remains the same in its association of music with positive qualities, be this bringing people together, invoking feelings of happiness, or healing the mind to create a 'better' self. Theoretically, in its acknowledgement of the power of music, it argues against the visual bias in subjectivity studies in its argument that audial medias can too 'create' social relationships and subjects.

Between the natural and the cultural: an ethnographic study of relaying a theatrical role's social transitions through body performance.

Author: Styliani Papakonstantinou (Dilos School of Acting, Athens, Greece) email

Short abstract

The present ethnographic study is concentrated on actress Maria Kechagioglou and how her body performance resonates with the eternal anthropological question of a woman's position in the context of nature and culture while playing Charlotte in a stage adaptation of Bergman's Autumn Sonata.

Long abstract

Creating a character, narrating a story and conveying a message to a theatre audience bring into focus the choices an actor makes in order to showcase how their body provides a substantial and tangible space of metamorphoses and transformation. The theatre ethnographer infers interesting analogies arise between the actor's body and the human condition within a cultural specific context. This text is a reflective examination of Ingmar Bergman's Autumn Sonata adapted to stage for a Greek audience in Athens during winter 2015-2016, as far as the actors' use of their body and anthropological theory can be linked. Focus is put on Charlotte, the leading role, and how body performance resonates with the eternal anthropological question of a woman's position in the context of nature and culture. This ethnographic case study examines the performance of a single actress, Maria Kechagioglou, and the way in which character transitions manifest not just verbally, but also physically through masterfully chosen gestures and body language. Analysis is on six pivotal scenes in which Charlotte's identity as a character is constructed around the nature/culture public/private dichotomy. Proposing an anthropological lens for interpreting an artistic act is a direct suggestion to the fact that a woman does indeed often find herself struggling between the domestic and public domains, between nature and culture. Being a woman and embodying a woman, is therefore viewed as a performance, in which being and interpretation merge and mesh.

Some One Else's Selfie: Ethnographic Theatre Opportunities Using Every Social Media Technology

Author: Lisa St. Clair Harvey (George Washington University) email

Short abstract

Using theatrical technique as a new type of qualitative research the author introduces the concept of ethnographic theatre illustrating how mobile phones can be used for cultural discovery within structured storytelling and role-playing environments.

Long abstract

Building on her earlier work adapting theatrical technique as a new type of qualitative research tool, the author introduces the concept of "ethnographic theatre" and illustrates how the ordinary mobile phone can be used a cultural discovery device for eliciting and capturing cultural material based in the anthropology of performance. This technique, called "Some One Else's Selfie" combines dramatic role-playing with projective analysis to explore respondents' perceptions about world-view and identity, by giving them a way to temporarily deviate from their own ascribed social roles within a safely fictional setting.

Respondents enter a structured role-playing scenario, temporarily occupying an imagined identity as they react to a specific issue, event, or conflict. They then create mobile phone self-recorded monologues, using the phone to perform these fictionalized dramatic narratives for an imagined audience of their own choosing, as they react to real-life issues within a fictionalized environment not as themselves, but from the perspective of their role-playing characters, outside of their usual place in the quotidian world where those issues and events take place and must be dealt with according to normative expectations.

As a Digital Age application of the late Victor Turner's "subjunctive mode of culture," researchers can analyze the "selfie" narrative itself as well as the respondents' reflections on role-playing experience to excavate the complex, iterative relationships between individual social perception and the web of cultural assumptions upon which ascribed personal identity and political attitudes are at least partially based. Analysis of third party theatrical artifacts is also possible.

Performance as Ethnography: Debating Muslimness in Manchester

Author: Asif Majid (The University of Manchester) email

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.

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.

Making Meaning in an Autistic Theatre Company

Author: Michael Allen (University of Adelaide) email

Short abstract

Ethnographic research on an all-autistic theatre company reveals how structural dynamics of performance suspends social power relationships for autistic actors.

Long abstract

This fieldwork was conducted as part of Masters research degree, investigating the question of how can a person of the Autism spectrum be considered a stage actor?

My research started from the premise that actors are highly trained in non-verbal communication and theatre as a creative process of interpreting and imagining social relationships. I countered this premise with the assumed definition of autism being someone who struggles with these concepts, indeed they are often used as the defining markers of the diagnosis.

This being the case and after seeing a local all-autistic theatre company perform, I engaged in ethnographic fieldwork with the company. Ultimately I devised a play (including performance) of the analysis which formed part of the final thesis. This creative process was not only reflective of the participants in the research, but by performing in it they maintained ownership of the research and the production creates a feedback loop of representation and dissemination.

Ultimately I conclude that the social and physical structuralism of the theatre performance event create an opportunity for suspended everyday relationships. Because the subjects and performers of the drama are generally marginalised they have less social status with doctors and society generally. When these people are given the authority to speak onstage, their audience must listen. For many participants this inversion of status can only exist onstage. In turn they feel they can communicate on their own terms and have autonomy of defining their own identity. This observation bore out in the feedback from audiences.

Shadows of Culture in Traditional Greek Shadow Puppetry

Author: Theodoros Kostidakis (Royal Central School of Speech and Drama) email

Short abstract

The psychological aspects of the cultural phenomenon of Greek traditional shadow puppetry: The latter is understood as expressing and challenging its social and historical context. The main focus is the art-form representing the shadow at a personal, cultural and psychological/philosophical level.

Long abstract

Traditional Greek shadow puppetry (Karagiozis) is an oral tradition of collective art-making which is a vital part of Greek cultural heritage; still alive today. Historically, it has played several roles within the cultural context of which it stands both as an expression and critical reflection. The current paper examines the psychological aspects of this cultural phenomenon. Both the art-form and its protagonist, Karagiozis, are viewed regarding their role of bringing the audience in contact with the neglected (shadow) aspects of personal and collective narratives.

Drawing from methodological approaches of phenomenology and autoethnography, as well as theories of dramatherapy, analytical psychology, theatre and philosophy of space and place, this paper examines the different layers of meanings that seem to have been attributed to those 'shadow' aspects: a)personal: based on my experience of shadow theatre as a shadow puppeteer, a member of its audience and a student dramatherapist using shadow puppetry; b) cultural: the role of Greek shadow puppetry in the sociological and historical context, as well as the formation of cultural identity; c) psychological/philosophical: consideration of principal structural elements of this art-form and their connections with the performer's experience. Starting from a myth about the beginning of Greek shadow puppetry, the character of Karagiozis is analysed and understood as a crystallisation of the aforementioned layers of meaning.

Museums of Struggle/Struggling Museums: Performance, Education and National Narratives in Cyprus

Author: Seta Astreou Karides email

Short abstract

This paper seeks to examine the functions of theatre and how it is used in primary schools in Cyprus as a case study of nationalism, gender and national memory. Working around embodiment, narrative and archiving it seeks to present performance as a site but also a means of ethnographic research.

Long abstract

This paper seeks to examine the functions of theatre and how it is used in primary schools in Cyprus as a case study of nationalism, gender and national memory. Working around notions of embodiment, narrative and archiving it seeks to present performance as a site but also a means of ethnographic research. Using personal and national archives, memory and borrowed testimonies Seta seeks to expose the ways national narratives are constructed and performed through installations and performances. How can montage, text and archiving reverse and recollect normative patterns of knowledge?. This paper exists along visual re-arrangement of images and video through which it seeks to expose both the ways theatre feeds into the formation of the national subject but also the extent to which theatre itself is a means of exposing these mechanisms. Working around the thresholds of the national and the individual, the fictional and the real, language and dialect, Seta seeks to explore what remains of a nation? How does a nation imagine itself? Herself?

Materialising Site

Author: Nela Milic (University of Arts, London) email

Short abstract

The Serbian upraising in ‘96/’97 was an attempt to overthrow Milosevic’s dictatorship. Ashamed by the unsuccessful outcome, Belgraders never produced an archive of artefacts emerged at demonstrations. The public has been left without the full account of the upraising. My archive is trying to amend that and contribute to the celebration of this event

Long abstract

The Serbian upraising in ‘96/’97 was an attempt to overthrow dictatorship of president Milosevic after he annulled elections because of the victory of the opposition party. Ashamed by the unsuccessful outcome of their protest, the people of the capital Belgrade, where number of protesters reached 200,000 daily, have never produced an archive of photos, banners and graffiti, which emerged during these demonstrations. Scarce information on the Internet and the inability of the media to reveal the data gathered during the protest has left the public without the full account of the upraising. My project is that archive - the website of images, leaflets, badges, flags, vouchers, cartoons, crochets, poems etc, an online ethnographic record of the elucidated protest available to the participants, scholars and the public. Most of the acquired objects required a transmission to digital form in order to be visible on the screen and that process brought numerous questions on technological advancements at the time, the role of the Internet in this failed revolution and its connection to the Arab world uprisings that we often take away from the people and place it in the praise of technology. The archive is now serving as a pedagogical tool as well as an interrogator of archival discipline standards in workshops as well as through individual use it has as a digital repository. In these practices, it is questioning the success of any storage as a platform to capture the past.

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.