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Performance, Politics and Popular Culture

Work under this theme focuses on the intersections between politics and aesthetics, the ideological implications of representational practices and attempts to explore and conceptualise previously underrepresented popular cultural practices.

Susan Haedicke’s extensive work on contemporary street theatre and other performance interventions in public spaces investigates the intersections between performance, politics and popular culture. Her book, Contemporary Street Arts in Europe: Aesthetics and Politics (2013), explores the symbiotic relationship between aesthetics and politics in a range of contemporary street interventions and focuses on the public’s aesthetico-political embodied responses that act as a form of social critique. This concern has been further developed in forthcoming publications on the politics of the body, activism and public space in several European performances. In addition, Haedicke is involved in a practice-based research project on performance in public spaces as dramaturg for The Winter’s Tale, a co-production between Polish street theatre company Teatr Biuro Podróży and Imagineer Productions. It will be performed in the ruins of Coventry Cathedral in August 2016. As dramaturg, Haedicke is adapting the play into a full-length performance script for a highly visual outdoor performance that explores the politics of fanaticism and links between perception and cognition.

A recent article by Anna Harpin tries to think through the ideology of populist horror with specific reference to depictions of madness and its public spaces. In ‘Revisiting the Puzzle Factory’ she explores the politics of stigma, spectacle, and violence in a number of theatre and film works that depict psychiatric history. She argues that the historical and populist framing of madness and psychiatry in these works creates an ideological blind spot that masks the deep processes of othering and marginalisation that are at play in such works. In this way, Harpin’s work attends to the multivalent ways in which popular culture both disturbs and sustains structures of power and social marginalisation. Her forthcoming monograph, Disordered: Madness and Cultural Representation (Routledge, 2017) also places politics and performance front and centre. In this book she examines the manners in which madness and psychiatry have been represented in cinema, theatre, and graphic fiction. She places the works in dialogue with psychiatric discourse and argues for a bold rethinking of how we understand and respond to mental alterity.

In his research into visual culture, Michael Pigott engages with the relationship between avant-garde and popular culture, with the ways that these boundaries can become blurred, and how these different modes of production often approach the same concepts in different (and sometimes surprisingly similar) ways. In his forthcoming article ‘The Image of Sleep’ he examines how the image of the sleeping body has been deployed within popular and experimental texts, and the significance of this to what Simon J. Williams calls a 'politics of sleep' in late-capitalism. His recent practical work included Realness, a performance installation made in collaboration with the artist Kate Spence, explores and builds upon the queer politics of Jennie Livingston's seminal documentary Paris is Burning (1990), by experimenting with the potential for representing the transcendence of the body, gender and species.

Jim Davis’s research focuses particularly on popular performance in the long nineteenth century and its reception. Comic Acting and Portraiture in Late-Georgian and Regency England (2015) looks at the critical discourses around and visual representation of popular comic performers c. 1780-1830. He continues to research popular genres such as pantomime and melodrama and their reception, with particular reference to their social, political and cultural impact. He is also working on stage adaptations of Dickens for the popular stage in the nineteenth century. His recent investigation of the relationship between theatre and entertainment considers the connection between political efficacy and theatrical entertainment and the impact of popular theatre forms on spectator agency.

Milija Gluhovic has extended his research into the politics of the popular evident in the co-edited volume Performing the 'New' Europe (2013) and the AHRC funded network “Eurovision Song Contest and the ‘New’ Europe” (2010-2012) in a new co-edited collection Rethinking the Secular: Performance, Religion, and the Public Sphere (2016). This volume aims to develop comparative methodological approaches to the analysis of the secular and to consider the ways ‘the secular’ has been translated into theatre and performance studies.

In her project “What’s Left of the Left?” Silvia Jestrovic is seeking to understand the historical and cross-cultural dimensions of the Left through performance paradigms and to recuperate the Left as an activist practice—a political and cultural performance—that extends class struggle to involve a wider range of issues and contradictions.

  • Selected Publications on Performance, Politics And Popular Culture:

    Davis, Jim, Comic Acting and Portraiture in Late-Georgian and Regency England, 2015.

    Davis, Jim, ‘Slap On! Slap Ever!’: Victorian Pantomime, Gender Variance, and Cross-Dressing’, New Theatre Quarterly 30:3

    Davis, Jim, Theatre & Entertainment, Palgrave Macmillan, forthcoming

    Davis, Jim, ‘Theatres and their Audiences’ for The Cambridge Companion to English Melodrama, ed. Caroline Williams, CUP, forthcoming

    Gluhovic, Milija, co-editor with Jisha Menon (Stanford) Rethinking the Secular: Performance, Religion, and the Public Sphere. Palgrave Macmillan, 2016 (includes 6000 word introduction)

    Gluhovic, Milija, “Sexual Democracy, Queer Publics and the Limits of Religious Tolerance in Eastern Europe.” Performing the Secular: Performance, Religion, and the Public Sphere. Eds. Milija Gluhovic and Jisha Menon, Palgrave, 2016, forthcoming

    Haedicke, Susan ‘Art, activisme, affect: performatifs démocratiques et les spectacles de Jeanne Simone dans les espaces publics’. Dancer la rue. Ed. Magali Sizorn, Pascal Roland et Betty Lefèvre. Presse des Universités de Rouen et du Havre, (2016, forthcoming)

    Haedicke, Susan, ‘Co-Performance of Bodies and Buildings: Compagnie Willi Dorner’s Bodies in Urban Spaces and fitting and Asphalt Piloten’s Around the Block’. Theatre Journal, 67.4. Themed Issue: ‘Possible Worlds’ (2015, forthcoming)

    Harpin, Anna, ‘Revisiting the Puzzle Factory’ in Interdisciplinary Science Reviews 34:4

    Jestrovic, Silvija, “Theatricality vs. Bare Life”, The Grammar of Politics and Performance. Eds. Shirin Rai and Janelle Reinelt. Routledge, 2015 80-93

    Pigott, Michael, “The Image of Sleep”, Performance Research (21) 1, February 2016

    Pigott, Michael, Realness, performance installation first presented at Vivid Projects, Birmingham, May 2015. Commissioned by mac birmingham/Vivid Projects/BFI.


Susan Haedicke: Contemporary Street Arts in Europe: Aesthetics and Politics (2013)


Michael Pigott: Realness, collaboration with Kate Spence (2015)


Jim Davis: Comic Acting and Portraiture in Late-Georgian and Regency England (2015)

Milija Gluhovic: Performing the 'New' Europe (2013)