PPi Distinguished Speaker Event: Jenny Hughes, Manchester
Performance, Politics and the Social Factory:
Socially-engaged theatre and performance practice has often been viewed as a counterbalance to threats to social and cultural life presented by modern forms of capitalism. Concerns for the diminishment of social life, created by the imperative to ‘economise everything’ associated with this historical moment, have led to renewed critical engagement with the social politics of performance, and of cultural practice more generally. This talk explores the performance and politics of the ‘social’, focusing particularly on the use of the term ‘social’ as an adjunct to theatre and performance, and to express a radical political dimension. Drawing on Franco Berardi’s concept of ‘the social factory’ alongside Jacques Rancière’s ‘dissensus’, the talk opens up discussion on the social politics of theatre and performance, and on the possibilities (and limits) of a range of meanings associated with the adjunct ‘social’ in considerations of performance and politics more generally. Examples of theatrical entertainments for the poor in the Victorian workhouses of the nineteenth century will provide the case studies that anchor the exploration. From these examples, I argue that discourses of the social provide an ambiguous and multi-layered terrain for understanding the politics of performance and cultural practice. In particular, I highlight a disavowed economic relation that underpins these fledgling forms of social theatre and that, in turn, challenges conceptualisations of the radical forms of equality offered by the time and place of theatre.
Jenny Hughes’ research interests include: the histories of theatre, performance and poverty; contemporary theatre practice and economic justice; activist theatre and protest performance; applied theatre and performance, especially with young people living with risk; and research methodologies in applied theatre and theatre studies. Her most recent funded research project was an Arts and Humanities Research Council Fellowship exploring theatre, performance and economic precarity (2014 – 2016). This research examined the relationships between theatre and poverty across various historical and geographical junctures, with a starting point of the New Poor Law (1834).
Publications include: a collection of essays edited with Helen Nicholson, Critical Perspectives in Applied Theatre (Cambridge University Press, 2016); a monograph, Performance in a time of terror (Manchester University Press, 2011); and a co-authored book (with James Thompson and Michael Balfour) Performance in place of war (Seagull/Chicago, 2009), alongside various journal articles, research reports and book chapters.