Performance and Migration: Questions of Methodology and Historiography

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American Society for Theatre Research Working Group

What is the relationship between performance and migration? Performances that narrate the experiences of people on the move, whether refugees or asylum seekers, immigrants following established diasporic routes, or seasonal laborers undertaking journeys fueled by a globalized economy, have appeared of late in a variety of aesthetic and social practices from the work of Los Angeles-based Teatro Jornalero sin Fronteras to Fire and Ice's "Asylum Monologues" in the UK to Théâtre du Soleil's Le Dernier Caravansérail. Yet an emphasis on the contemporariness of the relationship between performance practice and migration risks obscuring the broader implications of this phenomenon. First, it discounts theatrical histories of migration that fall outside the boundaries of theoretical vocabularies developed largely as a way of accounting for the late-modern increase in the circulation of peoples. Second, an exclusively contemporary focus conceals the role that the notion of performance has consistently served off the stage and in the social life of migration, national citizenship itself being, as May Joseph argues, a "performed site of personhood" ("Nomadic Identities," 4).

The goal of this working session is to explore the implications of this broadened understanding of performance and migration for the historiographical and methodological tools available to scholars of theatre and performance. What are the specific methodological challenges that migration poses for theatre historiography and an understanding of the global circulation of performance aesthetics and practices over time? In what particular ways must both archival and field methods in theatre and performance studies adapt themselves to the study of migration? What are the ethics of practicing ethnography alongside subjects of varied legal status? How do the migratory experiences of theatre artists account for their aesthetic technique and thematic concerns? How might tracking distinct or clustered migratory experiences help refine a map of world theatre typically reliant on regional divisions?


Members of the group will read selections from texts including D. Soyini Madison's "Critical Ethnography: Methods, Ethics and Performance" and Charlotte Canning and Thomas Postlewait's edited collection "Representing the Past: Essays on Theatre Historiography" during the summer of 2012 which will serve as reference points in the writing of their own, methodologically-conscious, 10-12 page papers. These papers will be circulated among group members by October 1st, after which point participants will exchange feedback and comments with members of their "small group", scholars with whom their work shares a theoretical, methodological or geographical context. During our conference session we will merge these small conversations with the group's broader interests regarding performance and migration, working to link participants' concrete examples and challenges to the broader theoretical questions occasioned by the relationship between these two terms.

Please submit an abstract proposing a particular case study that engages these methodological questions in relationship to performance and migration (500 words) and a brief bio (200 words) to Charlotte McIvor ( and Emine Fisek ( by Thursday, May 31st, 2012.