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Joukowsky Institute for Archaeology



Joukowsky Institute for Archaeology & the Ancient World
Brown University
Box 1837 / 60 George Street
Providence, RI 02912
Telephone: (401) 863-3188
Fax: (401) 863-9423
[email protected]

Performing Bodies and Performing Societies
Brad Sekedat: Response Paper 3.

We began our discussion of performance, ritual and space by re-examining Bourdieu and how the habitus, which seems constricting at first, can actually be the root of social change, to which Ömür responded that performance might be the way out, meaning performance leads to social change. In light of this, I want to return to something I wrote in my first response paper that relates to this issue in a pertinent way. I questioned whether bodily experience and social conceptions of the body are necessarily mutually supportive, and in light of the current discussion, it seems ever more so that they are not.

With varying emphasis, the function and meaning of performances have been discussed (Inomata and Coben 2006; Hodder 2006; Carlson 2004) in an effort to understand how and why they take place. Turnbull sees this as a process whereby performance is equal to production: by using an object or moving through space, the object or building produces the human through experience, but critically, the human (or animal?) produces the object or structure by providing meaning for it through using it (Turnbull 2002, 135). Therefore, each individual’s performance within a building, for example, creates a new meaning for that building based on how the person understood their own movement through it.

Furthermore, if we focus on the extraordinary, unifying spectacles discussed by Inomata and Coben (2006), there is abundant room for alternative perspectives based on simple things like sight lines, proximity to the ‘stage’ affecting how much can be heard, and even the people nearest you. A few years back, a friend and I attended the same concert, with seats in different parts of the auditorium, and left with entirely different perspectives. Mine, based on the unpleasantness of the woman seated behind me who was sick midway through, differs to this day from his fond memories of the event. How I act/perform at concerts is now different; I never leave my coat hanging over the back of my chair. Furthermore, my memories of this place are negative, even though the person can reasonably be argued to be a separate identity. Nonetheless, there are still some overarching patterns of behaviour that are at play when I attend concerts, or talk about this particular one.

What I am suggesting, in a round about way, is that this multiplicity of experience that is inherent in performance (public and private), is dependent on the individual experiences of the body (sight, sound, smell, temperature), but that the way these experiences are related to other people can still be influenced by social constructs. To relate this back to the reading, the movement of the body through a performative act in a space is felt individually and variably, but not so drastically that the habitus explodes suddenly. The difference between bodily performance and experience and social frameworks do not necessarily support each other.


Carlson, Marvin; 2004. “The performance of culture: anthropological and ethnographic approaches” in Performance: a critical inttroduction. Second Edition. New York: Routledge, 11-30.

Hodder, Ian; 2006. “The spectacle of daily performance at Çatalhöyük,” in Archaeology of performance: theaters of power, community, and politics. Takeshi Inomata and Lawrenbce S. Cohen (eds.). Lanham: Altamira Press., 81-102.

Inomata, Takeshi and Lawrence S. Cohen; 2006. “Overture: an invitation to the archaeological theater,” in Archaeology of performance: theaters of power, community, and politics. Takeshi Inomata and Lawrenbce S. Cohen (eds.). Lanham: Altamira Press., 11-44.

Turnbull, David; 2002. “Performance and narrative, bodies and movement in the construction of places and objects, spaces and knowledges,” Theory, Culture & Society 19 (5/6): 125-143.

Posted at Oct 19/2006 04:33PM:
omur: I think that the question you are raising here is particularly crucial in the way that it is pointing towards the significance of individualized experiences of a social event. When a social event such as the concert you have been to, is represented through various kinds of media, various forms of representations in the public sphere (news media, internet, oral recounting etc), those representations by their nature are reductive in documenting the event; one particular form of memory is selected to be publicized in detriment of other memories of the event. While limited number of versions of history get recorded, many others are glossed over, silenced, forgotten. I think, if the past is sedimented on our bodies as some scholars argue both materially and habitually, then it is important to work on that sedimentation on individual bodies to look for different dispositions of social practices.

Your point in the paper is revealing in this sense that representations of the past that survives to us often survive at the cost of the destruction of other versions of the experience of the past. So the material evidence and the inscribed versions of history need to be seen in the critical light of this.