Perform or Else? Surveying the state of the discipline for the post-pandemic world

deadline for submissions: 
April 11, 2021
full name / name of organization: 
Performance Paradigm
contact email: 

Call for Papers Performance Paradigm 17 (2022)

Perform or Else? Surveying the state of the discipline for the post-pandemic world

Edited by Emma Willis (University of Auckland) Chris Hay (University of Queensland) and Nien Yuan Cheng (University of Sydney)

In Perform or Else (2001)Jon McKenzie outlined three performance paradigms – the cultural, the organisational and the technological – to argue that the imperative to perform had replaced Foucault’s description of discipline, hence the book’s subtitle: “from discipline to performance.” McKenzie’s insights partially inspired the name of this journal and our first issue “Performance in the Information Age” (2005) featured his work. This issue returns to McKenzie’s seminal text to ask what the imperative to perform looks like when performance is thwarted – for many, 2020 was marked by a “hyper-stasis” (Reynolds 2011, 516), with change happening all around us as we were (and continue to be) stuck in place. To do this, we take each of McKenzie’s three paradigms in turn, asking how they might be interpreted in the time of COVID-19.

Firstly, how is the playbook of performance management being mobilised at this time? University staff, for example, are currently being asked to consider ‘enhanced leaving,’ or ‘voluntary separation.’ What happens when the paradigm of performance measurement is mobilised against scholars and practitioners of performance, as we’re told “you’re obsolete, liable to be defunded, junkpiled, or dumped” (McKenzie 2001, 15)? How might we reclaim performance as a discipline, a mode of measurement, an act of political resistance? While performance has been defined as “restored behaviour,” Colbert, Jones and Vogel argue that formula can also be reversed. In other words, it can also be a mode of “behaved restoration”, repair, meaning, and becoming (Colbert, Jones, and Vogel 2020, 13)?

Secondly, how have “the worldwide circuits of performative power and knowledge” (McKenzie 2001, 25) aligned to techno-performance been amplified by COVID-19 and what does this amplification tell us about the distribution of such power? For artistic works, how has techno-performance itself performed? What happens when software programs made for business conferences and webinars become the performance spaces of the many artists forced to adapt to these new circumstances? In addition, techno-performance has also brought about new practices in documentation and archiving. What will be the “performance remains” (Schneider  2011, 100) of the pandemic — and, given the imbrication of performance space and commercial product, to whom will these remains belong?

Thirdly, performance studies, like many other disciplines, was facing demands for paradigm shifts in both teaching and research — even before the pandemic. In Perform or Else, McKenzie rehearses the “intellectual history” (2001, 33) of performance studies as located in its relationship with anthropology without fully critically acknowledging anthropology’s violent legacies of cultural and political imperialism. Twenty years on, “decolonisation” has become a buzzword within and beyond the university––but have things really changed? As Bhakti Shringarpure asks, “what counts as ‘authentic’ decolonisation in 2020?” (2020). As a journal with a focus on the Australasian and Oceanic region, we are particularly interested in how this question bears out in this part of the world.

Lastly, and more recently, McKenzie sketches another three “additional paradigms of performance research”: government performance, financial or economic performance, and environmental performance (2006, 37-38). Each of these paradigms has been implicated by the COVID-19 crisis, which has brought with it comparison graphs on national infection rates, vaccination performance reports, and so on. Could we even suggest that pandemic performance might soon form a paradigm of its own?

The above lines of inquiry proposed by this issue are far-ranging; nonetheless, they resonate with one another, bound together by an interest in revisiting and advancing the ideas explored by McKenzie 20 years ago. We ask not only what it means to “perform” in the shadow of a global pandemic, but also what is its “or else?” (McKenzie 2001, 5). This issue therefore seeks essays or interviews in response to the four areas sketched above:

  1. the mobilisation of our field for neoliberal measurement purposes;
  2. the impacts of techno-performance on our work and our experience as scholars, artists and citizens;
  3. the question of how to decolonise performance studies and what that might look like; and
  4. the rising paradigms of governmental, financial and environmental performance.


Please send proposals of approximately 300 words to Dr Emma Willis ( by 11 April 2021. Full articles will be due on 1 November 2021 for publication in Performance Paradigm 17, July 2022.

Please feel free to contact the issue editors with any questions. For more information about them, see here:

Dr Emma Willis,

Dr Chris Hay,,

Dr Nien Yuan Cheng,

Works Cited:

Colbert, S., Jones, D., & Vogel, S. (Eds.). (2020). Race and Performance after Repetition. Durham, London: Duke University Press.

McKenzie, J. (2001). Perform or Else: From Discipline to Performance, London: Routledge, 2001.

--- (2006). “Performance and globalization.” In The SAGE handbook of performance studies, edited by D. S. Madison and J. Hamera, 33-45. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications.

Reynolds, S. (2011). Retromania: Pop Culture’s Addition to its Own Past. London: Faber & Faber.

Schneider, R. (2011). Performing Remains: Art and War in Times of Theatrical Reenactment. London: Routledge.

Shringarpure, B. (2020). “Notes on fake decolonization. “Africa is a Country, 18 December.