Posted by on January 5, 2015

alvin_ailey_american_dance_theater_in_alvin_ailey_s_revelations-1-_photo_by_manny_hernandez_05Blackness and Performance: Black Performance Theory
ETST 243E-001, Winter 2015
Monday 12:40-3:30pm, INTN 4043
Professor Ashon Crawley
Office Hours: Mondays 10:30am-12:30pm


The purpose of this course is to introduce students to Black Performance Theory, how it has been figured in past and current studies, and how we might anticipate the futures of such a field, such a concept. Performance Theory is an interdisciplinary zone of articulation, a mode of study and inquiry that privileges multiple currents, sources, concepts. The course will consider performance in a variety of guises and presentations, we will consider, in Diana Taylor’s words, how performances are “vital acts of transfer.” We will consider what is transferred, from and to what, to whom, why and how. We will interrogate and ruminate. Perhaps we will sing. Perhaps we will paint. Maybe act. Or draw. Or play. We will, regardless, come together in the cause of producing something like a critique of the current configuration of an unjust world, asking how Performance – Black Performance – serves as a necessary intervention. To steal away is the topical thrust, the undergrounded verve of black performance, to steal away is – to riff off Zora Neale Hurston – the unceasing theme around which black performance varies. It is a different relation to time and space, the grounds for, without being educated into, modernity. Thus Black Performance produces for us an ethical demand to vary and antagonize, to be restless and restive against the dominant political economy and its ordering of the world.

And it is important and necessary and urgent, it seems, to think rigorously about an otherwise mode of inhabitation, an otherwise mode of being in the world and how performance, black performance, is constantly engaged in the production of the otherwise, the otherwise as stealing away. Between Eric Garner’s murder, the genocide just this past summer in Palestine, the murder of Mike Brown, Ezell Ford, Kajieme Powell, John Crawford, Tanisha Anderson, Tamir Rice and the various non-indictments of police violence and terrorism, performance has been harnessed for its possibilities to critique and produce an ethical demand on the world. Such that we are not merely theorizing and abstracting in order for knowledge to produce the university as a cloistered away zone. Rather, considering the gravity of black performance will give us means to intervene into the world. The ultimate goal of this class is an ethical one: to ask how shall we live given the ongoingness of state violence against we that are marginalized? And what can performance offer us in the way of a reply?

In order to have a robust conversation weekly, and given the delimitation of eight – rather than ten – weeks, each week we will consider multiple performances and how they elucidate, complicate and highlight what blackness is, can be. As such, we all will be responsible for locating performances and practices that will be shared during weekly meetings that you believe are in dialogue with the reading for the week. You will also have to produce a weekly essay of 500 words that speaks to the performance chosen; this essay will be shared in the first half of class. After sharing the performance or practice along with the essay, we will open up for conversation that is grounded in the reading for the week. Each week, we will attend to the method of writing, writing as performance practice. We will attend to that of our own writing as well as that of the authors we will engage.


Readings From:
“Performance Studies: Interventions and Radical Research” – Conquergood
Performance Studies: An Introduction – Schechner
Unmarked: The Politics of Performance – Phelan
“Ephemera as Evidence: Introductory Notes to Queer Acts” – Muñoz
Disidentifications: Queers of Color and the Performance of Politics – Muñoz
Appropriating Blackness – Johnson
Black Performance Theory – DeFrantz and Gonzalez
Excitable Speech – Butler
Performance: A Critical Introduction – Carlson
Scenes of Subjection: Terror, Slavery, and Self-Making in Nineteenth-Century America – Hartman
In the Break: The Aesthetics of the Black Radical Tradition – Moten
Black, White and in Color – Spillers
Touching Feeling: Affect, Pedagogy, Performativity – Sedgwick
Bodies in Dissent: Spectacular Performances of Race and Freedom – Brooks

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  1. Marie Nadine Pierre
    December 16, 2015

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    Jah love brother. I would love to see the notes from this course. I would have loved to take a course like this. I studied Folklore, Folklife and Anthropology at U.C. Berkeley and the University of Pennsylvania. During that time, Performance theory was very popular with a very elitist group amongst us. I felt left out of the conversation about the subject and I now realize that I was purposefully made to feel that way even though I had a lot to contribute. I am very interested with the performance of identity. I am most concerned with the ways that children of immigrants from Ayiti adopt segmented identities to adjust and acculturate or even assimilate into mainstream U.S. society. And how some entertainers Suzette Charles, Jimmy Jean Louis, Garcelle Bauvais and members from De La Soul and The Fugees for example blows this subject wide open sorta speak. This study, has been a 25 year quest to learn about performance of identity on the public square or the “out loud” part of the everyday being in this world. I was wondering if in trying to comprehend the process, I might find spaces to discuss, how the various issues concerned, such as race, gender, sex, sexuality/ies, lifestyle, immigration status, class, ethnicity, ability, color (shade of black) impact the way that identity is performed? I don’t subscribe to the traditional definition of performance as such, I take my cues from Richard Bauman whose work on verbal art as performance and folklore encouraged me to pursue the ideas that the concept connotes. I am excited to read more of your works on the subject. And I am most interested in how you discuss Saidiya Hartman and bell hooks ideas. More specifically, I want to learn more about black performance in slavery and in freedom as it relates to re-presentation of race, self, community and love. Blessed love.

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