Thursday, 8 December 2016

Dramaturgy is Dead

...which is not the kind of consoling slogan that encourages further reading, but pressing on...

The study of dramaturgy is hampered by many problems, and perhaps the most irritating is the conflation between 'dramaturgy as a process' and the job of the dramaturge. Admittedly, this is only a nuisance to people like me, who are attempting to define an area of investigation. But even really useful books like Dramaturgy and Performance (Turner and Behrndt) dedicate as much time to the role of the dramaturge as to the discussion of history and theory. 

But I have a feeling that dramaturgy, as a field of study, has been dissolved into Performance Theory. I'm dating the change to around 1992, and blaming America.

From the 1950s onward, dramaturgy was adopted by sociologists. This led to an expansion of the objects studied through the various methodologies of dramaturgy and, in 1992, Richard Schechner shouted at Theatre Studies. Schechner was interested not in 'theatre' (even at its most expansive definition) but performance. Consequently, a whole bunch of stuff was given attention, which is great. Unless I happened to be trying to examine aesthetics. 

Note: at this point, the author gets seriously off topic. There are some thoughts on why he wants to be a moral thinker. There is a complaint that morality has been high-jacked, or something. 

I have many problems with performance theory: there is a danger that it turns mundane experience into an aesthetic event. That is, rather than making moral judgments on behaviour, the sociologist sees them as an art event. I guess, despite my antics, I want to be a moralist.

There's a great deal of bunkum surrounding 'moral judgment': it's often associated with conservative social thinking - the religious right, condemnation of certain lifestyles and identities, voting for anti-immigration political parties. In that amazing and ridiculous battle being staged in social media - the one about identity politics or 'political correctness' or Social Justice or whatever it is being called this afternoon - morality is the core issue. For both sides, the morality of particular actions is called into question. 

Hold on, I am getting in over my head...

So - my personal belief in the individual's freedom to define their
own sexual identity, or gender identity is a moral decision. Maybe that is different to taste, but I remember hearing 'your aesthetics are your ethics' somewhere. I just think that a society where diversity is respected (yes, I'm using the short form of slogans to identify with a certain position and/or group) would be a better society.

Performance Theory, which possibly feeds from existentialist notions of 'no absolute self', encourages a ... surface reading of behaviour. Possibly. It might do. Not sure...

Hold on there, Ramblin' Rose. This doesn't matter. The worth of performance theory in terms of social morality is irrelevant to your case. If I have to remind you ... you are supposed to be worrying that the discipline of dramaturgy has been subsumed into performance studies. 

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