Performance as Research Working Group 

 Proceedings of the meeting at the IFTR (International Federation for Theatre Research) conference, University of Hyderabad, India 6.-10.7.2015. 

Practice as Research and ‘Democracy’

– background to a reading of the performance work by activist Duskin Drum


Lynette Hunter, University of California Davis




Representative democracy requires representations – this is easy to say but the implication of ‘representation’ within liberal democracies is the stable fact of knowledge that can be reproduced/represented

- the social contract of liberal democracy needs stable identities to confirm the symbolic systems of its ideology [and provide a predictable market for capital-based commodity culture]

In effect, over the twentieth century and due to for example the franchises, that stability has given way to the discursive focus of political hegemony, which requires the slightly more flexible systems of discourse rather than representation

- but the discursive often ends up with competing knowledges: from the large-scale nuclear/extended family structures to the small-scale toothpaste issues, it usually turns to the binaries of the symbolic world

- and is dependent on modes of legitimation that involve compromise, co-optation, and the replication of revolution – leading to the dialectical contradictions of liberal politics and its form of democracy.


The western twentieth century philosophical avocation of process-based knowledge – of ways of knowing [rather than ‘knowledge’] – offers a central issue with different implications for politics and for democracy. 

What this paper will work on begins with four areas in the larger structure of these philosophies, and focuses on the third.

1) how to generate the process

2) how to keep the process going

These first two I think of as practice: the performativity of art-making is grounded in the skills learned by the practitioner/performer for installing these elements of process through practice. While practice is inflected by the structure of hegemonic discourse, its somatic work takes place alongside of that discourse and is informed primarily by traditional and embodied ways of knowing.

3) how to arrest the process at appropriate moments for public performance

4) how to re-generate the process once the process has lost its appropriateness: this is the work of critique

These second two I think of as practice as research: the performativity of performance is grounded in the skills learned for constellating these elements of process in research. The research process of practice as research begins with a somatic apprehension of a form that enables repetition without replication.


The third area: 

Keeping the process going is not necessarily going to lead to a change in representative or discursive democracy, nor indeed indicate possible alteriors to these forms of democracy. Just as an art-maker arrests the process of making to take the art-work into the public, so process has to have moments of a(rest to become effective in socio-political domains.

a(rest is not arrest but a rest, a slowing down of process to a point where the somatic inhabits a form

in a(rest, process can find the forms at appropriate moments to effect per-formance of socio-political action as engaged with need rather than primarily in response or reaction to want or desire

Practice as research: research undertaken to move the installations of practice into the constellations of the public.1

What then occurs in constellation is part of the co-making by performer and audience:

one way to think about this is as a practice with its own performativity

this way performance can be thought as an art-making grounded in the skills learned by the practitioner/performer/audience for constellating

a(rest marks the form of an action that sustains the performativity of practice in performance


Several things can happen to process in and after a(rest: 

it can presence a process that engages into form

it can arrest process into the positionality of situated groups through situated textuality

it can set process toward the discursive systems of hegemonic democracy through articulation

in different ways these rhetorical stances emerge from work alongside hegemony into cultural discourse through activities of ‘fitting’.

the closer the activity to discourse, the more the activity ‘fits’, the more it fits, the less it emerges and the more it disrupts or even transgresses.

it can halt process to acquire the stasis needed by stable representative democracy.

this rhetorical stance tends toward being just ‘enough’ to satisfy.


- the political work of these rhetorical stances is never guaranteed – there are many variables depending on the skills of both performer and audience

- but the stances use strategies that are more or less likely to have particular affects and effects depending on the sociohistorical constitution of their performance modes of production

-  the strategies draw on various forms of stability, stasis, system, network, articulation, set toward, positionality, or a(rest – among others


Every moment of a(rest has political implications – in art-making, in social action, in cultural power

- the process of practice finding a form may halt at the places that culture defines as aesthetically representative: as beauty (fitting), as pleasure (fit), as satisfaction (enough)

but: research – as the finding of form in practice that enables per-formance – can call on two etymologies of ‘find’ (find v. OED)

1) pe(n)t > petere: to seek or aim at, goal-oriented, implicit with the challenge to or completion of the assumptive logics of representative aesthetics >> stasis and system 

2) pent > IndoEuropean: to go or to journey, also associated with ‘feeling’ or ‘chance’ >> a(rest


So, there are many different stances that can happen with the findings of form/kinds of research in practice 

- can not only find the form of beauty, of pleasure, of satisfaction – all of which depend on a relation to the assumptive logics of hegemonic culture

- but also find the journeying form of positioning, situating, presencing – among others that work alongside hegemonic culture

These different ways of finding form recall the rhetorical drift of political action: from an ecology, to collaboration, collectivity, the consensus, the corporate, the authoritative, and, rarely: the totalitarian-

Rhetorical drift can offer analogies for a range of ethical activities in aesthetics and performance that have political ends deriving from the alongside to the hegemonic – from presencing, to engaging, responding, reacting, typing, even stereo-typing    and the ethical activities in performance can inform political process.


In the modern liberal world, in which culturally recognisable aesthetics was dominated by the status/subjecthood of those people in the public who bought art/performance works, the maker was rarely part of the cultural representation [in the sense that recognised makers were recognised precisely because they were producing work valued by those who could afford to buy it]. But as more and more people claim cultural power, the representation/recognition of the beautiful becomes destabilised.

Just so, with today’s global movement of people, things, information, there is a surfacing of the complexity that lies within the discursive assumptions largely maintained by those with interests in hegemonic power.

When the assumptive logics of discursive power break apart under the weight of multiple voices claiming a less representative and more diverse democratic access, there are challenges to both systematic discursive relativity and ideological stability.


Where do these challenges come from? I explore here the world living alongside the hegemony of the liberal state, a world that works with a range of different rhetorical stances and their associated politics and ethics.

Presencing, engaging, responding, are just three possible modes of such research for practice, for practice as research in the alongside.


One way multiple voices get heard is through the thinking around advocacy, leading to intersectionality: often consensus decision-making for specific ends that will have an effect on discourse.

- the work takes place alongside hegemony but also in reaction to it

- the process of practice can be arrested at the place where it generates a form that can be per-formed to help the consensus articulate a specific end, adopt a set-toward the liberal state


Another way multiple voices get heard is through the activity of situated knowledge, a situated textuality leading to positionality: the collaborative/collective decision-makings to address particular need

- the work takes place alongside hegemony but not in reaction to it – rather, in response to the need for values that give us reasons for going on living

- the process of practice a(rests in the moment to per-form those needs, which may or may not emerge into discourse


One way multiple voices also get heard is in the practice of presencing, what has been called relational-nonrelational activism: co-labouring that is a living that works ecologically to maintain the energy of decision-making

- presencing takes place alongside hegemony, not in response to the need for values but as part of the morphing flow of undifferentiation/ differentiation/ precipitation and change that connects us somatically

- it is a process of practice that precipitates out the particularity of difference in an experience of affect

- from this ecological morphing comes an affect and therefore a change that occurs in the non-autonomous/co-extensive self, a change that presences the somatic body with a different energy

- this alters things, can generate needs, can lead to alterior ways of valuing living


This paper will move on to explore these three performative stances of a(rest that focus on practice as research in the alongside: the cluster around articulation and set-toward, that around situated textuality and positionality, and that around presencing and differentiation.

1 Lynette Hunter, ‘Installation and Constellation’, in ed B. Reynolds, Performance Studies: KeyWords, Concepts (London: Palgrave, 2015), 141-55.

Discourse recognises performance through at least two rhetorical strategies: positionalities and sets toward hegemony. A ‘set toward’ hegemony signifies a disposition toward discursive structures. It is an ethos position taken up in reaction to a discursive field, and is characterized by a collective settling into a specific and repeatable behaviour toward an issue or element in hegemonic structure. In contrast, a positionality is not a reaction to a hegemonic structure, but a positioning of one’s self or one’s group that happens on non-discursive grounds. A positionality is built not primarily in reaction to the subjection that results from hegemonic structure, but from valued elements in life alongside the discursive. This positioning may be recognised by hegemonic culture and become emergent into it. A set toward hegemony cannot be emergent because it is built on the grounds of the discourse it opposes or transgresses. But although emergent positionality may enable a set-toward that causes disruption, discourse may also ignore it, or simply not see it or hear it or sense it. Thought about in this way, the process of performance allows one the aesthetic experience of the feelings generated by the building of alongside worlds, their affects, their ethics, and the positionalities and sets toward hegemony they enable : in the work of installating.

In constellating, this conceptual framework allows one to think about the interplay of differing positionalities with respect to hegemony, differing sets toward hegemonic norms, and the extents and possibilities for shift and fit – for fitting into cultural discourse, and for shifting it.