What Is Performance Studies?

A presentation at What Is Performance Studies? in in Denver, CO, USA by James Adams

Performance studies is an interdisciplinary field where performance is studied as a lens for understanding the world. As a result, it encompasses a wide range of topics that range from the sociology of performance to the psychology of the performer. This is an exciting field for those who are interested in the intersection of art and culture.

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Various universities in the United States offer a master’s degree in performance studies. In Australia, performance studies are also taught at the University of Sydney, Victoria University, and the Queensland University of Technology. The program integrates dance, music, and drama. In Germany, the Freie Universitat Berlin hosts the government-funded research group Kulturen des Performativen. Some other universities offer undergraduate programs in performance studies, including the University of New South Wales and the University of Canterbury. The Dokkyo University organized an international performance studies forum in Japan in 2002.

Another important contribution of performance studies is Richard Schechner. His broad-spectrum approach, which spans the arts, ritual, politics, and economics, may prove to be the most important contribution to the field. He defines performance as “double-behaved” behaviors that span across a variety of contexts.

Theorists have also contributed to the study of performance. Performance studies is a multidisciplinary field with anthropological and theatrical roots. Its founder, Richard Schechner, worked with anthropologist Victor Turner and focused on intercultural performances. Later, Dwight Conquergood developed a branch of performance ethnography that emphasized the political nature of performance and advocated methodological dialogism. Performance studies at NYU are dedicated to the critical analysis of cultural enactments. It also seeks to understand how cultural enactments produce meaning. It draws on theories from various disciplines, including literary theory, speech communication, and sociology. It also provides many opportunities for students to double major and study abroad.

A strong understanding of performance is essential for any social sciences and humanities research. This interdisciplinary field emphasizes the pervasiveness of performance and encompasses all forms of artistic expression. Performance can be performed in theater, dance, storytelling, public speaking, avant-garde performance art, and political demonstrations. It also considers the role of language in performance and how it influences identity.

Performance studies grew out of postmodernism, which emerged in the 1980s. During this time, the importance of representation was shifted from the playwright to the actor, and the role of the director became less important. The study of performance was also expanded to include ritual activities and the social contexts in which performances take place.


The following resources were mentioned during the presentation or are useful additional information.

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