I'm not an expert of performance theory, but I do understand its significance specially in myth and folklore, religion and ritual, and aesthetics and technology. Humans are not only talkers but actors or doers as well. performance theory or performativity does not aim to value text or speech more than body or action. They are inseparable.

I have observed in indigenous communities how words are meaningless when they are treated only as texts. We have a lot of idioms in our language regarding the futility of words, speech, and utterances.

"hanggang salita" (only in talking)

"puro salita" (all talk)

"salita nang salita" (talk and talk)

"magaling sa salita" (good in talking)

These idiomatic expressions are used when someone is only good in talking but not in doing. Filipinos already practiced performativity even before the English language reached our land and taught our forefathers the textual power of the Bible.

I grew up in a culture where "yes" and "no" are expressed by squinting eyes, creasing brows, and nodding heads. I knew my mother would not allow me to sleep over at my friend's house by just looking at her face. Simply, in our culture we embody texts, we perform speech, and we act out words. If you ask a Filipino walking in the streets of Manila a direction, you wont' hear "east of this" or "north of that". You will see his hands, his arms, and his pouted lips giving directions.

Speech or utterance is just one aspect of the speech-action paradigm in performativity. Performative or performance theory is so much more. Like some of you here, I, too, was skeptical about its significance in the field of sociocultural studies/analyses. I first thought it only belonged on the stage or in the theater, but I did not give up.

I had been looking for terms or concepts in anthropology that I could use to call things and thoughts kept or hidden and displayed or exposed intentionally or otherwise in or by a culture, and I found none. Pathos and ethos are too broad and abstract. After reading about "archive" and "repertoire" as cultural memories, I found what I had been looking.

One of the things that is keeping me away from anthropology is the cultist intellectualizing of those anthropologists who are more of theoretical trumpeters than social or cultural analysts. There's nothing wrong in invoking Turner's name even in taking a dump, The questions are:

Can you move on from Turner and explore what he had not explored?

Can you make your own theory after being influenced by Turner?

Can you do what he had done; make not copy theories?

It seems to me imitation is what we are mostly doing in anthropology. Just check some of the thesis titles shelved in university libraries. They are about proving or disproving existing theories among groups or in cultures. Is this the reason why anthropology has not come out with a sensible or, lets say, "explosive" theory lately? Are we scared or paranoid to theorize? Are we suppose to study theories or people and their culture? Are we anthropologists because we trumpet or parrot what the dead anthropologists said or wrote decades ago?

Because of my hesitation to join in the anthropological cult of intellectual mimicry, I went back to revisit performance theory, which, to me, is very inclusive in their theoretical approach and appropriation of other methodologies. I was amazed how performance theorists come up with new theories often. Their works sound more anthropological and ethnographic than some papers of anthropologists who still try to forward postmodernism as the savior of anthropology but fail. They embrace anthropological tools and methodologies. For a humanistic field like performance studies to do that, it should open our eyes in anthropology.

Why are we encroaching the domain of philosophical and critical studies when we have our own tools and methodologies we can use to resuscitate anthropology. There must be a reason why performance studies degrees and departments are sprouting everywhere like mushrooms. I wonder if it is anthropology or ethnography that has been shaping the emergence of performance studies as an academic discipline or field of inquiry.

I, too, had initial reservations about performativity. It seemed to me at first that it touched everything but it could not pinpoint something. It was so because I was strict in my interpretation. I stuck to the performance theory texts I read. When I began making sense of performativity my own way, I realized that indeed it has a role to play in understanding sociocultural phenomena. It is useful in anthropology. It is the approach that appropriates every theory known to anthropology.

Performance theory, in my view, is the simplified form of system theory that goes from systemic to specific. It is a web of concepts that does not exclude but rather include other concepts. I have always believed that studying performance and imitation is enough to understand the complexities of culture. People have cultures because of the cultural narratives they share and pass on in their communities/societies.

An OAC member said that he did not see any new perspective offered by performativity. I think he had a limited understanding of performativity and performance theory, and the word "performance" is the focus of his understanding and the eyesore of his analysis of the concept. Yes, performativity is broad, but it aims to go specific. It would not be scrutinizing surfaces if it were just like postmodernism that grandly exists to verbally confuse and abuse.

Without the concept of performativity, the priest's pronouncement, "You are now husband and wife," in a church ceremony can be easily dismissed as a ritualistic utterance or a church's cliche. Performativity goes beyond what is said or heard. It can help us go beyond the superficialities of things. It can guide us in our exploration of the surfaces. It can push us to ask questions we tend not to ask because of our thinking that a text is a text or a speech is nothing but a speech.

Is the priest's statement a social speech for communal unification or a personal proclamation of authority? Is it about the church's canon on marriage or the community's coming together to celebrate kinship union? Is it merely a text from the priest's list of things to say in a ceremony or an embodiment of the text with an action the priest expects? Is the priest performing the ritual individually or collectively? Is the priest's utterance specific in place and time or general that it will make sense even when said in a porn theater at midnight?

The list of possible questions is endless. It is so because the text is not treated as a disembodied set of words or utterances. I like to think I'm not gullible when it comes to theories. I applied performativity in my culture, in my language, in my diaspora; it makes sense. It completes my understanding of texts and textual analyses. Above all, it proves what I have been espousing for awhile in ethnophilosophy and ethnopsychology that natives or ethnic communities have their own philosophy and psychology we need, as anthropologists, to recognize and study.

Views: 105


You need to be a member of Open Anthropology Cooperative to add comments!

Comment by John McCreery on October 29, 2010 at 12:32pm
Gustaf, nice observation about the person in the business suit, and you're right about performance in a theatrical sense being an important part of doing business. Business deals always come down to someone on one side of the table who wants or needs something and somebody on the opposite side of the table who says, in effect, trust us, we can deliver this for you. And at least in advertising, a business in which I have been involved for nearly 30 years, no amountvv of data and logic ever closes the deal. The question on both sides is, how far can I trust the other? Wearing the same sort of suit, speaking the same language, and communicating through body language, tone of voice, and references to shared enthusiasms, e.g., sports, that you are "our kind of people" is a commonly used and effective set of tactics. The alternative, presenting yourself as an eccentric genius can also work but is much harder to pull off. (A lot of the inspiration for these remarks comes from Erving Goffman's Presentation of self in everyday life.
Comment by John McCreery on October 27, 2010 at 1:37am
Guys, ease up. Someone said, in effect, can't you talk about anybody but Turner? I said, well, as a matter of fact, and put some evidence on the table. Let's leave it there.
Comment by Jacob Lee on October 26, 2010 at 11:29pm
As far as I can see this is just a continuation of all that silly mudslinging from the seminar forum (and I am not just pointing fingers at you M).

We all have our frustrations with the discipline. But I think it is better that all of us lead anthropology by example. That is, I submit, part of what the OAC is about.
Comment by M Izabel on October 26, 2010 at 11:03pm
Sorry, Jacob, this is not mud wrestling. This is plain honesty coming from me and my frustration with the discipline I love so much but loathe at the same time. I guess I'm in a "liminal" state in my appreciation of the discipline. If I am, I can't wait to get out of that mental state. .
Comment by Jacob Lee on October 26, 2010 at 10:13pm
Jesus. Lets see if we can crawl through the mud just a bit more.
Comment by M Izabel on October 26, 2010 at 9:45pm
First off, it was not my intention to use Turner so I could direct the message of my post to a particular person. I could have used Foucault or Bourdieu, but I chose Turner because it's easy to spell.

With all your published works, I think you're in a position most will envy. Such position in the world of anthropological publishing will empower some to be more adventurous or explosive in their thinking/theorizing. John, you are a great thinker. I've read your work, but you think limitedly. It's a pity that a brain like yours cannot go beyond what has already been written, said, or done. I want to read or hear new terms, concepts, and ideas from you. Those that will blow gaskets and send other anthropologists into a tizzy are what I have been waiting. You have the personality, the audacity to express and be heard, and yes, the intellectual capacity to be a pioneer of something in anthropology.

Let me use your first paper on dowry as an example. Explaining dowry in terms of economics, gender rights, and familial power or wealth is not new. Even high school students in India write, think, or surmise the same thing. I would be more challenged or titillated intellectually, If what you wrote was along the line of biosocial anthropology, where dowry can be explained through genetics, kinship, and reproduction since the most virile or the healthiest of men, who come from good families and have good education and economic backgrounds, are the priciest in the community that practices dowry.

Of course, you can say that you are the writer so you can write what you wish. My response: I'm a reader, so I can express, without hesitation, what is old news and what is not.

I may sound harsh in this response. Please blame it on my youth. My spirit of adventurism has not yet dimmed.
Comment by John McCreery on October 26, 2010 at 1:33pm
Can you move on from Turner and explore what he had not explored?


Can you make your own theory after being influenced by Turner?


Can you do what he had done; make not copy theories?

Yes. The following list is short by academic standards; but in no case will you find that I have simply applied the ideas of Victor Turner or anyone else. I am, on the contrary, perversely inclined to look for new approaches to whatever topic I take up.

The symbolism of popular Taoist magic
JL McCreery - 1973 - Cornell University.

Women's property rights and dowry in China and South Asia
JL McCreery - Ethnology, 1976 - JSTOR

The Parting of the Ways: A Study of Innovation in Ritual
JL McCreery - Bulletin of the Institute of Ethnology, Academia Sinica, 1978

From Red to Whi te: The Unwrapping of the Taiwanese Bride
JL McCreery - Culture change and persistence among …, 1979 - State University of New York

Potential and effective meaning in therapeutic ritual
JL McCreery - Culture, Medicine and Psychiatry, 1979 - Springer

Why don't we see some real money here? Offerings in Chinese religion
J McCreery - Journal of Chinese Religions, 1990

Negotiating with demons: the uses of magical language
JL McCREERY - American Ethnologist, 1995 - interscience.wiley.com

Malinowski, magic and advertising: on choosing metaphors
J McCreery - Contemporary Marketing and Consumer Behavior, 1995

Finding meaning in the muddle: Adapting global strategies to advertising in Japan
J Mccreery - City & Society, 1997 - interscience.wiley.com

Japanese Consumer Behavior: From Worker Bees to Wary Shoppers

JL McCreery, ConsumAsian Series, Curzon Press/University of Hawaii Press, 1999.

Creating advertising in Japan: a sketch in search of a principle
JL McCreery - Asian Media Productions. London: Curzon, 2001

Getting to persuasion
JL McCreery - Anthropological Quarterly, 2001 - muse.jhu.edu

I would add that Vic Turner was the last person in the world to expect anyone to blindly imitate his example. In one of my favorite passages he observes that that theories are only of value when they illuminate something discovered in the field and in most cases the insight must first be disentangled from the logical sludge in which the theorist has embedded it. I discovered myself, long before the "Medici effect" became a buzzword, that the most promising approach is to examine a topic through the lenses of at least two theories to secure a deeper perspective. Those who adopt a single approach and treat it as a panacea are usually misguided.


OAC Press



© 2019   Created by Keith Hart.   Powered by

Badges  |  Report an Issue  |  Terms of Service