This seminar will examine the “performative turn” that took place in social sciences — in particular in the field of Anthropology —, from the 1960s on, exploring the relationship between culture and performance, which ultimately lead to the emergence of Performance Studies as a field and discipline. We will look at the different genealogies of this emerging field, introducing the students to the theories and practices that contributed to the shaping of the discipline. We will pay special attention to the concept of performativity, derived from J.L. Austin’s concept of the performative, which he developed in a series of lectures on speech acts (posthumously published as How to Do Things With Words). Performativity has become an influential concept in several theoretical fields, from philosophy of language to literary theory, performance studies, cultural studies and gender studies, revealing itself as what Mieke Bal calls a “traveling concept”. Bal reminds us that, as tools of intersubjectivity, concepts are not fixed but rather travel "between disciplines, between individual scholars, between historical periods and between geographically dispersed academic communities,” changing "their meaning, reach and operational value" as a result (Bal, 2009). This seminar aims at providing a critical introduction to the history, methods and central debates of Performance Studies and to trace and analyze the transformations of the performative in social sciences and the arts.
The seminar will grant students with a comprehensive understanding of Performance Theory and of Performance Studies as an interdisciplinary and expanding field. This field has its focus on both practice and theory and the course will engage students in the critical analyses of its foundational texts and methodologies. In class, students will develop critical skills and competencies that will enable them to analyze both cultural and aesthetic performances, as well as actions and behaviors in everyday life.