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What is Performance Studies?

Diana Taylor, Author
English, page 1 of 30
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Patrick Anderson

Interview with Patrick Anderson (2007)
Patrick Anderson is Associate Professor of Ethnic Studies, Critical Gender Studies, and Communication at the University of California, San Diego. Anderson holds a BS in Performance Studies and Anthropology from Northwestern University; an MA in Communication Studies and Cultural Studies from UNC Chapel Hill; and a PhD in Performance Studies (with a Designated Emphasis in Women, Gender, and Sexuality) from UC Berkeley. A former Fulbright Scholar in Sri Lanka, Anderson's research, teaching, and activism bridge the fields of Performance Studies and Cultural Studies. His book So Much Wasted: Hunger, Performance, and the Morbidity of Resistance (Duke University Press 2010) explores hunger striking, anorexia nervosa, and staged fasts as spectacular, radically charged practices that attempt to intervene in ideological state sovereignty. His book Violence Performed: Local Roots and Global Routes of Conflict (Palgrave/Macmillan 2009), a collection of essays co-edited with Jisha Menon, interrogates violence as performance and performative in contemporary global politics. He is currently completing two more books: Autobiography of a Disease, and Empathy's Others. Anderson is the co-editor, with Nicholas Ridout, of the "Performance Works" book series at Northwestern University Press.X

Marcial Godoy-Anativia: So, hello, Patrick. Thank you for joining us. If you could introduce yourself briefly, please.

Patrick Anderson: Okay, I’m Patrick Anderson. I’m an Assistant Professor in the Department of Communication and Affiliate in Ethnic Studies and Critical Gender Studies at University of California San Diego. My PhD is in Performance Studies and Women, Gender, and Sexuality at Berkeley. And currently I’m spending a year at Stanford in the Department of Drama.

: Great. So tell us, if can you talk a little bit about how you understand performance studies as a field, or discipline, or post-discipline?

Patrick: Sure. Well I tend to answer that question differently depending on who’s asking it and who’s the intended audience. But I... however I answer it I always tend to think not in terms of disciplinary genealogies—there are a lot of trackings of performance studies through the humanities, through the arts, through the social sciences, and I think those are all very useful—but I prefer to think of performance studies as constituting various kinds of opportunities and then as calling us into various kinds of responsibilities or obligations that are political in nature. When I speak to undergraduates I tend to say that the opportunities that performance studies and performance theory gives us are to think about things that are not, that were not created with the intention of being self-consciously staged, to think about those things as performance, whether they be literary texts or social formations or identity constructions or other models of thinking about what the subject is, what the human is, what the person is, what the self is. But I think using performance either as an analytic or as a metaphor or an allegory for thinking about other things also brings certain responsibilities, or stakes to bear, upon the work we do. So, for example, most performance studies work thinks about embodiment, the depth of bodies, rather than limiting the orientation of research to the text or to the surface level, the sort of textual reading of things. And doing so I think means that we have to pay attention to bodies in new ways, and take responsibility for bodies in new ways. It can be a very avant-garde seeming, new age seeming kind of thing to focus on bodies, to focus on affect, and so on. So in talking to undergraduate students I tend to focus both on the productivity of performance studies, to think about how it can be useful for thinking about lots of other things, like experiences of ourselves as gendered, raced, sexualized people in the world, and then also bring some responsibility to bear upon that way of thinking. And I find that students are very —undergraduate students in particular—are very open to this kind of thinking and can make the leaps that may once have seemed very difficult pretty quickly. So it’s important in my own work, pedagogically, then to remind students what’s at stake in thinking in these new ways and helping us as a group to continue to be responsible for the political communities of which we are a part or about which we are thinking or writing.

“Performance studies constitutes various kinds of opportunities and calls us into various kinds of responsibilities or obligations that are political in nature. The opportunities that performance studies and performance theory give us are to think about things that are not, that were not created with the intention of being self-consciously staged.”

Marcial: Great.

Patrick: When I speak to colleagues I also like to think about non-disciplinary formations, so I guess inter-disciplinarity is a way to think about it. But I prefer to think in terms of opportunity and obligation, responsibility, however those formations happen. For me performance studies both opens a lot of new ways of thinking and makes us obligated to think ethically about those things in new ways.

Marcial: Great. And how about your own research?

Patrick: So my work is on violence and performance and political subjectivity. My first book
Anderson, Patrick. 2010. So Much Wasted: Hunger, Performance, and the Morbidity of Resistance. Durham, NC: Duke University Press.X
, which is approaching, is on hunger striking and other forms of self-starvation. There’s a lot of writing on hunger striking, political demonstrations, anorexia, staged fasts, and so on, but for me thinking about performance in those contexts sort of returns the question of embodied experience, consciousness, duration into those scenes. So performance helps think more deeply through these demonstrations of political argument. And, you know I was just talking about obligation so, as my mentor Dwight Conquergood taught me, and has taught many of us, I think, we are ethically obligated to think about these things performatively and as performance. And we are ethically obligated to follow through on our work, so that it doesn’t remain housed in libraries and university offices and so on. So that second turn in my own work is just as important as the first. Performance isn’t merely an allegory for thinking about prison strikes, but requires that we pay attention to how scholarship has effects that impinge directly upon the scenes we’re thinking about.

: Right yeah, well, no, that’s very useful, very insightful. Thank you very much for sharing your thoughts with us.

Patrick: Sure, thank you, this is a great project.

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