Arousal and Precarious Labor in Burlesque: Methods, Archives, and Ethical Scholarship

deadline for submissions: 
June 1, 2018
full name / name of organization: 
2018 Conference: Arousal: Theatre, Performance, Embodiment/American Society for Theatre Research (ASTR)
contact email: 

Arousal and Precarious Labor in Burlesque: Methods, Archives, and Ethical Scholarship 

Beth Hartman, University of Minnesota,
Elizabeth Wellman, Oregon State University,
Kalle Westerling, CUNY Graduate Center,

Those of us who work on burlesque and other forms of precarious sexual labor—adult entertainment, erotic performance, drag, sex work, and pornography—often encounter a variety of ethical dilemmas.  A tension-filled relationship with the archive, interlocutors, performers, and other community members can color the research and scholarship.  Our inquiries, however well-intended, may arouse suspicions about researchers interested in artists’ performance lives, spheres, and histories.  And those suspicions are not unwarranted—memories of being misquoted or misrepresented on the page, academic tourists for whom sexual laborers are merely passing, or titillating, interests, and requests for information without remuneration all have stoked the fires of mistrust among those who live in precarity.
Participants in this working group will critically examine their own research practices, offering methodological insights and questions for further inquiry.  Together, we will consider how we engage with the archive, our interlocutors, and other individuals in the communities about which we are writing. We seek to ask: How do we share our work with members of these performance communities? How might our own voices advocate for ethical scholarship, particularly for those whose work is forced to operate in illegal or extra-legal contexts? Who has historically been under- or mis-represented in this scholarship, and how can we amplify those voices? How can we invite conversations from within performance communities into our scholarship? What are useful models for co-authorship that include scholars and practitioners? Finally, what are other ways our research can benefit the performers with whom we work?  

The conversation will be structured around the ethics and methodologies of the burlesque archive and its relationship to contemporary artistic practices. This session invites participants to share methods and practices from their own research on burlesque, including archival, ethnographic, and performance-based approaches.

The goals for this session are three-fold: (1) to imagine a best practices document that offers guidance to current and future burlesque archivists, curators, historians, theorists, ethnographers, and practitioners as they work to preserve and analyze the role of burlesque in larger historical and social contexts while tangibly supporting the work of art-makers often operating in marginalized, fetishized, commodified, and occasionally extra-legal spaces; (2) to trouble the current divides between scholarship and practice, especially, but not exclusively, as they apply to burlesque studies; and (3) to map out the existing archives and collections, both public and private, and create a digital guide to aide in accessibility and build connections among archival resources.

Since one of our goals is to bridge the divide between scholarship and practice, participation in the working group also entails an off-site excursion to attend a burlesque show, preceded or followed by a discussion with the show’s producer(s) and several of the performers.  We will incorporate our experiences into our working group conversation and draw upon our interactions with practitioners when drafting our “best practices” document and thinking about collaborative approaches to research and writing.  In addition, we will share our working group’s insights with the practitioners afterward and open up the possibility of an ongoing dialogue.

To Submit:

1) Submit your proposal via the official ASTR website by visiting HERE:


2) Submit a 250-word abstract of a project you’d like to bring to the group or a statement about your research methodology, and a 100-word academic biographical statement, by June 1, 2018, to the working group organizers, Beth Hartman <>, Elizabeth Wellman <>, Kalle Westerling <>

Any and all questions may be directed to the organizers at the above email address.