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Theater and Performance

The State Of The Field

Performance studies has been most notable for work that examines the politics and poetics of identity (gender, race, ethnicity, and sexuality) in ways that are both responsive to the claims of human creativity and criticality and cognizant of the normative forces that constrain such expressions. This work avoids the Enlightenment distinctions between mind and body that have proved an obstacle to similar critique from other disciplines. Significant areas of interest in the field in the early twenty-first century include tourism, urban festivity, historical ethnography, pedagogy, and the performance of space and place. True to the origins of performance studies, much work examines contemporary performance art and experimental theater from a perspective that provocatively mixes criticism and practice. In a field that has historically privileged the localized study of live, embodied action and interaction, interest in globalization, diaspora, cyber-communities, and virtual, technological, and "mediatized" performance has proved theoretically fertile. Some prominent scholars have made broad claims that performance is the predominant paradigm of a globalized age, comparable to the colonial era's orientation around models of "discipline."

Performance studies is flourishing both within and outside the United States. Its flagship journals, The Drama Review (TDR) and Text and Performance Quarterly have been joined by publications such as Performance Research; performance research centers have been established in Cardiff, Wales, and Christchurch, New Zealand; and conferences have been held in Japan, Germany, and Singapore. The doctoral programs at New York University and Northwestern University, and the performance studies focus areas of numerous communications programs, have been joined by a world theater and dance program at UCLA, and formerly traditional theater programs (at the University of California at Berkeley, for example) are adopting the performance studies moniker as they increasingly embrace research interests and theoretical paradigms from outside the bounds of Western institutionalized theater.

Whether performance studies can sustain itself as an "interdisciplinary" formation, given the claims made on the performance concept by a range of disciplinary competitors, has been a matter for debate since the earliest inception of performance studies institutions. As a powerful tool for thinking about cultural process from the point of view of human action and expression, however, the performance concept will doubtless be a significant feature in the landscape of cultural criticism for some time to come.


Butler, Judith. Bodies That Matter: On the Discursive Limits of "Sex." New York and London: Routledge, 1993.

Carlson, Marvin. Performance: A Critical Introduction. 2nd ed. New York: Routledge, 2004.

Conquergood, Dwight. "Performance Studies: Interventions and Radical Research." TDR: The Drama Review 46, no. 2 (2002): 145–156.

Dailey, Sheron J., ed. The Future of Performance Studies: Visions and Revisions. Annandale, Va.: National Communication Association, 1998.

McKenzie, Jon. Perform or Else: From Discipline to Performance. London and New York: Routledge, 2001.

Schechner, Richard. Performance Studies: An Introduction. New York and London: Routledge, 2002.

Margaret Werry

Additional topics

Science EncyclopediaScience & Philosophy: Thallophyta to ToxicologyTheater and Performance - Performance Studies' Interdisciplinary Genealogy, Performance As Object, Performance As Method, Performance, Performativity, And Theatricality