Performance Studies Areas of Focus


Areas of Focus
Faculty Research Clusters

Each of the four main clusters of interest offers a possible way for a student to focus their studies. Students choose to work across the cluster range, and with a wide variety of faculty.

  • Cultures/Ecologies
  • Embodiments
  • Interactive Medias
  • Text and History


Performance and culture at the local, societal, national, transnational and global levels, including the interaction of humans and their material environments. The ecology of a given culture in performance terms (how it manifests and is maintained in process). Ethnographies of performance. The interaction of culture and the environment. The influence of colonialism, postcolonialism, and neocolonialism on performance and culture.

This cluster of interests is intended to speak to scholars who interrogate broader social processes beyond the individual, who chart the relationship of individuals to the environment, and who investigate performance in culture. It will appeal to anthropologists, ethnographers, ethnic studies scholars and those studying the performative aspects of cultural symbols. Ecologies will attract scholars of literature and languages dealing with issues of nationalism, state formation and other forms and organizations of power. It will serve scholars working on the use and influence of space and the built environment including architects and urban planners. It engages the process of thinking about the relationship between human performance and sustainability.

Cultures/Ecologies refers to the area of scholarly inquiry that engages human cultures and/or their social and material environments, either separately or in interaction through their interdependence. Research areas may encompass issues constituent of the following: the interdependence of globalization and cultural performance (such as how hip-hop youth culture has become transnational, interfacing with many discrete cultures across the globe); anthropological studies of performance, both traditional and contemporary, in world cultures (engagement of Victor Turner‟s self-reflexive paradigm of Anthropology as Theater in studying contemporary Indian pow-pows for example); ethnographies of specific performance art practices globally (for instance, a study of New York choreographers Eiko & Komo‟s work in relation to traditional Japanese Buddhism); ecological processes of environmental sustainability as models of new social behaviors (studies that might encompass a city‟s “green” efforts as a “scripted” choreography of efforts, linking theater devices to effective coordination of sustainable living in city planning); music, dance, and theatre, and rhetorical studies in relation to the “performance of real life” (studies of how race, gender, and/or sexuality are performed through enactments, subversions, and re-enforcements in the US); the interaction of culture and the environment as national performances (ambitious historical studies of how national cultures are invented and performed, and changed through policy, politics, and rhetoric—the “invention of tradition” paradigm); and many more.

Cultures/Ecologies assumes “culture” as a learned collective process of becoming that engages the traditional past with the contemporary “new.” This understanding of culture is augmented by the increasing awareness in the 21st century of our global environmental interdependence as what binds us beyond cultural differences. This perspective of culture and ecology allows critical engagement of decades-old paradigms of performance as well as emerging models of sustainability by creative, inventive graduate students interested in Performance Studies.



The relationship of bodies in performance and performative contexts past and present. Identity as and in performance. Embodied experiences of and in performance, sociohistorical, psychological, and physiological. Methods of representing, transforming, and taking a position through the body in performance and performative contexts. Models of understanding human interaction through performance

This cluster of interest might attract the work of individuals in theater, dance, and performance art as they discuss the experience of individual bodies in performance. It is relevant to scholars of history, sociology and ethnic studies as they talk about identity as a performance and the performative elements of social and group identity. It references the practical implications of embodied training that would have potential significance to psychologists, physiologists, biologists, individuals working with neurocognitive models, artist/practitioners, and exercise scientists. It also deals with questions of representation and documentation of bodies in performance that will encompass scholars working in discursive fields such as literature and languages.

Finally, it attends to the full rhetorical situation of performance as an intersection of bodies, real or virtual, and may interest scholars in technocultural studies, those interested in human performance and ergonomics.

Embodiments embraces the presence of bodies within performance practice, as physiological, psychological, and virtual entities. Research in this space ranges from the phenomenological to the affective, from questions of identity politics as lived on the streets to the psychophysical experiences of a dancer on the stage. It involves the study of consciousness, situational politics, spirituality and activism. Though the body can be imagined as a metaphor for thinking about a relation to the world, this extends beyond the metaphorical to deal with the lived conditions of actual bodies both on stage and off in a wide range of performative situations. Categories such as race, ethnicity, sexuality, gender, ability, age, and class are placed in dialogue with performance and performativity to ask questions such as: How does one‟s identity shape one‟s social interactions? How is this reflected in performance? How does one perform an identity? How are bodies used, understood, and experienced in the process of performance? What are the relationships between bodies and rituals? How is a body trained and how does this manifest in performance? What cultural expectations attached by the self and others to the body? What is the reality of sensory experience and how can this be understood in performance? What are the physical and technological limits of the body? How do affect, joy, pain, fear, transform a body in the space of performance? What are the possibilities of the body as a work of art? How is the body used as a tool in performance? How does a performer experience her body? Using methodologies from linguistics, anthropology, psychology, sociology, linguistics, rhetoric, theater, dance and other ways of thinking about performance, Embodiments explores the possibilities of bodies in process, in action, in performance.



A study of the specific modes, forms, effects and interactions of various media including embodied media: film,photography, the visual arts, radio, television, music and sound, digital media, human and animal bodies, the internet, and the printed word. Mediated social performances and communications in their historical and theoretical contexts. Ethnographic documentation of media audiences including models of readership and spectatorship. Formal and philosophical approaches to media analysis, the construction of cultural hierarchies and taste, modes of production. Historically-based examination of critical junctures in the histories of media and technology

This cluster of interest might attract the work of scholars working in a variety of media including graphic artists, creative writers, sound and new media artists, documentary film makers, and those who study a range of media forms including faculty in Theatre and Dance, English, Film Studies, Technocultural Studies, Languages, and Ethnic Studies. It is relevant to historians, political scientists and sociologists attending to issues of mediated representation as well as scholars of communication studies. It asks questions about identity and spectatorship that will speak to scholars of gender, race and ethnicity, as well as those focused on community formation. It allows for an interrogation of various forms of media as genres of performance.

The comparative axis of Performance Studies examines the mobilization of both disembodied and embodied media (including posthuman and cyborg bodies) within and across cultures (anthropological and aesthetic) in different times and spaces. In our contemporary context, new digital media and the internet are rapidly transforming modes of citizenship, social engagement, and political activism. But media transformation and cultural change have a long history. Media have always re-shaped modes of perception, subjectivities, identities, and political engagement. New radio and film technologies re-shaped political participation in 1930s and 40s Europe, just as amateur video productions are changing vernacular culture in contemporary Nigeria. The Interactive Medias cluster examines diversely mediated social performances and communications within a deep historical and critical framework. The critical perspectives entail a rigorous understanding of formal and philosophical approaches to media analysis, models of readership and spectatorship, the construction of cultural hierarchies and taste, the ethnographic documentation of media audiences and an understanding of modes of production. Thus, the theories, practices and methodologies of comparative media complement a historically-based examination of landmark, or critical, junctures in the histories of media and technology. From this core component comprising theories and histories of comparative medias, students can elect to specialize in a range of comparative media research and practice under the guidance of UC Davis faculty. 10



The Text and History cluster within the Performance Studies program focuses on the history of the production and reception of dramatic texts and performance practices. It situates performance texts in political, social and historical contexts in transcultural settings, from the ancient, to the early modern and the contemporary world. It also theorizes the issues raised around performance that took place in an historical past.


Approaches in relationship to performance include:

  • Historical study of the people who create and the audiences that take part in performance
  • Theoretical approaches and methodologies to performance and performance studies, including changes in theories of performance, and the use of performance studies‟ theories to think about the construction of the historical past
  • Phenomenological analysis of the changing spatial and temporal dimensions of performance
  • Textual, literary and rhetorical exploration of theatrical and performance texts in a wide range of media.


Examples of faculty and student research areas:

  • Exploration of production history through archives of theatre and performance spaces relating to the San Francisco Mime Troupe
  • Religious ritual from the medieval to modern period as central to defining the role and position of women
  • Sixteenth and seventeenth century English drama, theater history, performance of games, masculinity, sound studies.
  • Modern Chinese drama, film, television drama, political theater, street theater, women’s theater, comparative literature, literary theory, cultural studies, and performance studies.
  • Medieval and early modern French literature, theater, and culture. Ethics and politics in fifteenth- and sixteenth-century farce; medieval romance, Molière, and the Theater of the Absurd.
  • Twentieth-century American composers and the mythology of the American West; eighteenth- and nineteenth-century aesthetics, reception history, and representations of music in literature.
  • Nineteenth and early-twentieth-century British literature, culture, and politics; gender studies; film and visuality; print culture and media studies; late-Victorian dramatic revival and the socialist movement; Shaw, Wilde and Ibsen.
  • Early modern Spanish literature and drama: drama as textual, cultural and performative practice; theatrical spaces and playhouses; Golden Age comedia studies; history of Spanish theater; transatlantic drama
  • Ancient Mediterranean art; Greek theater; Greek and Roman cult practice; religious ritual as performance.
  • Early modern and modern Islamic Art and Architectural History, urban history, theory of architectural preservation, and architecture and gender 11
  • Modern European and American drama, Theory of drama and performance, History of American cinema, Family trauma in contemporary American film
  • Gender and film studies, the history and representation of violence and warfare, German literature and culture from the eighteenth century to the present
  • Medieval cartography; classical receptions; film and the classical world
  • Poetic and visual representations of dance in the late Middle Ages; their role in the modern construction of medieval studies

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Performance Studies

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