Call for Papers: Theatricality, Performance, and the State – Queen Mary 7-8 June
“’The State must wither away.” Who says that? The State…’ He assumes a cunning, furtive expression, stands in front of the chair in which I am sitting – he is impersonating ‘the State’ – and says with a sly, sidelong glance at an imaginary interlocutor: ‘ I know I ought to wither away.’
Benjamin with Brecht, 22 June, 1938
“In order to work,” Samir Amin remarks, “capitalism requires the intervention of a collective authority representing capital as a whole. Therefore, the state cannot be separated from capitalism.” While seemingly self-evident, this insight sits at odds with a tendency in theatre and performance studies and in political theory towards what Mitchell Dean and Kaspar Villadsen, following Foucault, have diagnosed as ‘state-phobia’ (2016). In this framework, the state figures as an outmoded analytical category, to be replaced by neoliberal market forces and other de-centred analytics of power. Thus, theatre and performance – as well as the ‘creative economies’ more broadly – come to be evoked as either unwittingly complicit in the retraction of the state from governance and welfare (Bishop, 2012), or conversely held up as either instantiations of civil society (Jackson, 2011) or as an oppositional public sphere that has the potential to escape the state’s long arm (Balme, 2014).
While these interventions all offer useful insights into performance’s relationship to neoliberal governance models, the recurring oversight of the role of the state in its imbrication with both performance and discourses of theatricality runs the risk of eliding this relationship altogether. Yet, since Plato at least, the dangers and uses of theatre to real or idealised states has been a recurring feature in philosophical, governmental and political discourses. Moving beyond the focus on ‘anti-theatrical’ prejudice (Barish, 1981) which often informs the analysis of these discourses, what else might be uncovered through reflecting on the usefulness of theatre and performance for articulations of theories of statehood? Additionally, as posited by Amin, if the state cannot be separated from capitalism, what might be the value of discussing performance and theatre through (re)considering the state as central to the relationship between theatre and capitalism? Conversely, how might theories of performance and theatricality allow for a renewed understanding of the state’s position in globalized capitalism? Following on from this, how might reading the globalised economy alongside the ‘planetary extension of the state’ (Lefebvre, 1975) expand understandings of theatre’s political function across regional sites? How do states participate in the performance of the “world-configuring function,” (Balibar) of borders, especially considering the living legacies of colonialism and decolonization and the contemporary prevalence of geopolitical isolationism and border regimes? Can the state continue to be thought of a site of progressive struggle?
This conference aims to address an epistemological lacuna by bringing the modern state back to centre stage in thinking about and through theatre, theatricality and performance. We invite scholars to reflect on how the state limits, organizes, supports, and develops theatre and performance, but also on how theatricality and performance, as conceptual models, offer productive ways to think and understand the modern state and its apparatuses. We encourage a wide array of theoretical and empirical approaches to this subject and invite varied disciplinary modes including history and historiography, labour studies, geography, political economy, philosophy, literary and cultural theory and theatre and performance studies.
Suggested topics can include:
- The state as censor / the state as defender of freedom of speech
- The state’s active role in the development and regulation of theatre institutions and organizations
- The state’s performance of itself (as military, as territory, as police, as justice, as ruler)
- Theatre and sovereignty
- Gendered, racialized, and other forms of state violence
- Statelessness and its performances
- The dialectic of nation and state
- The performative desire for a state in histories of decolonization
- States’ instrumentalisation of reproductive labour
- Riots, strikes and other modes of collective organizing against the state’s legitimacy
- The borders of the modern state
- Absolutism’s legacies/ Absolutism’s others
Confirmed keynote speaker Dr. Tony Fisher, title TBC
Tony Fisher is Reader in Theatre and Philosophy, at the Royal Central School of Speech and Drama, and its associate director of research. His monograph, Theatre and Governance in Britain, 1500-1900: Democracy, Disorder and the State was published in 2017 by Cambridge University Press. He is also co-editor (with Eve Katsouraki) of Performing Antagonism: Theatre, Performance and Radical Democracy (Palgrave Macmillan, 2017) which examines the theory of agonism in relation to political performance. He is currently co-editing two further volumes, Theatre, Performance, Foucault! with Kélina Gotman (Kings) for Manchester University Press; and – also with Eve Katsouraki – Beyond Failure: New Essays on the Cultural History of Failure in Theatre and Performance for Routledge. Tony has published essays on theatre, politics, and philosophy in a number of journals, including Performance Philosophy Journal, Cultural Critique, Performance Research, and Continental Philosophy Review.
The convenors welcome proposals for traditional papers of 20 minutes in length, practice research demonstrations, panels and performances . Please email all abstracts (no more than 300 words in length), an additional few sentences of biographical information and details of the audio-visual technology you will need to make your presentation to Faisal Hamadah (firstname.lastname@example.org) or Caoimhe Mader-Mcguinness (email@example.com). The deadline for the submission of proposals is Monday 30th April 2018.