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Locations of (Dis)embodied Labour in Theatre and Performance 30 November 2023

*Registration and Conference Programme coming soon

In Dune, an iconic science fiction novel by Frank Herbert, the Fremen – the natives of a desert planet Arrakis – developed particular ways to survive in the hostile environment almost deprived of water. They created costumes that absorb all the secretions of the body, turning them into water. Water was extracted from the bodies of deceased people. And finally, the greatest shock for the Fremen was tears: they meant that people voluntarily spend their water. The economy of body, labour, and affect on Arrakis formed an almost completely closed cycle.

This conference call starts with the premise that theatre and performance studies could offer novel ways to problematize an idea of the labouring body. There has been an increasingly vibrant trend to consider theatre and performance as a holistic event involving bodies that are not only seen as carriers of aesthetic techniques and dramatic actions to evoke emotions from audiences, but also as working entities embedded in the historical and contemporary web of labour and politics (Davis 1991, Jackson 2011, Prakash 2019). And beyond that, the issue of the labouring body has received critical attention more recently from: the socialist feminist debates on value associated with work based on its role and importance in capitalist production, the more recent critical ruminations on immaterial and affective labour (Hardt and Negri 2004), and recent immigration crises that foreground the precarity of the labouring body across national, racial, and social borders (Butler 2004 and 2009). Building on some of these insights and debates, we seek to enquire labour as a concept that operates through the intertwined idea of understanding corporeality inscribed by the social markings of space. Such an approach presents a critical lens that may bring to the fore, aspects of an embodied presence that may seek to re-evaluate labour not only as a function of changing dimensions of work in society but also, according to Nicholas Ridout (2013), as reimagining through performance forms that may critique dominant regimes of work.

The conference endeavours to explore the body in the practices, theories, and histories of performance not limited to cultural production. We aspire to open up a space for an interdisciplinary multitude of topics united by an interest in bodies as a phenomenological site of labour where the marks of modern and global capitalism are inscribed. Stemming from this are questions concerning the locations of the body in performance, what it takes and gives, and the exact nature and mechanisms of the affects that bodies work on. How is the economy of labouring bodies being performed in contemporary culture? How can we think innovatively and alternatively of a performing body as a conduit in the circulation of labour and affect? How to understand labour through the body as a living and practising being? What are the economic and political conditions underlying such an understanding – and what forms of resistance it awakens through performances?

We seek proposals, artistic contributions, creative work from scholars and practitioners working in theatre and performance studies, other arts disciplines, the Humanities and social sciences that interrogate what constitutes a labouring body, in various performance forms as well as domains of lived experience. In that regard, one may seek to engage with the following topics, but are not restricted to:

  • Labour and the body in theatrical practices
  • Labour and the gendered body in performance
  • The embodiment of labour as nonwork in performance
  • Labouring body, feelings and emotions in performance
  • Biopolitics, labour and performance in the public sphere
  • Affective labour and the body in performance of care services
  • Love, labour and queer bodies
  • Performances of migrant labour
  • Visible bodies and invisible labour in (post)pandemic age
  • The body in ecological crisis: alternate histories of labour


Twitter: @bodylabourtps23