Contaminating Bodies, Infectious Displays: Women as Performative Currency (working session; 5/31/2011; Montreal, 11/2011)

full name / name of organization: 
American Society for Theatre Research
contact email: 

Anna Gibbs writes: "Contagion is everywhere in the contemporary world. It leaps from body to body, sweeping through mediatized populations at the speed of a bushfire…. Consumer economies actually rely on contagion for everyday functioning, connecting people, money, goods, resources, ideas, and beliefs in global flows of communication and exchange in ways that fundamentally alter relations in the process."

Female bodies often substitute for currency within economies—marriage and childbearing practices throughout history offering just one example. In some instances, this substitution empowers the female body with strategic identity or influence. However, such commodification can also serve to control what the female body can do, where it can travel, and how it can participate in public spheres or contribute to society and culture.

This working session builds upon, and invites new voices into, the conversation begun during the 2010 ASTR session, "Contaminating Bodies: The Threat of Women on Performative Display." That session considered the issue of contamination and the female performative body broadly, and our discussion challenged us to consider how issues of pleasure, popularity, production, circulation, media, and visuality contribute to notions of the female body as "contaminating" or, in a potentially more neutral or positive shift, "infectious."

This 2011 working session reorients that conversation through the lens of performative currency in order to explore how the female body as a contaminating force participates in the circulation and exchange of power, identities, affect, resistance, pleasure, heritage, religious belief, popularity, and other currencies. Do particular cultural and social economies position the performatively displayed female body as able to "infect" audiences—both positively and negatively? Does the performative female body have power not only to spread contagion, but also to defend audiences from contagion—in effect, to inoculate audiences against cultural, political, or social threats? Following Gibbs, do specific economies and modes of communication demand that the female body serve as a contagion? And how might performance fulfill, perpetuate, or benefit from that demand?

Although we encourage members of our 2010 working session to submit proposals, our aim is to incorporate new voices and perspectives into this conversation. We invite work from a range of historical periods, geographies, and theoretical frameworks.

We will organize participants into smaller working groups that encourage dialogue across disciplinary, theoretical, and historical boundaries. Members of these smaller groups will share project ideas, challenges, and resources by email before the conference. In early October, participants will exchange short papers (8-10 pages) within these smaller groups. Each participant will prepare brief written feedback about the other members' papers, which they will exchange and discuss at the beginning of the conference session. We will follow this small group work with a larger conversation about conclusions and connections that emerged from this discussion, and possibilities for further study.

Please submit a 200-word abstract and brief bio to both Jen-Scott Mobley ( and Jill Stevenson ( by Monday, May 30th. Feel free to email Jen-Scott or Jill with questions. For information about Working Session guidelines or the conference, please visit: