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14.S: Summary and Questions

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  • The band takes a final bow and exits the stage. The lights come up and people begin streaming out of the auditorium. One performance ends but a multitude of others continues. The security guard continues to present a picture of authority, ensuring orderly behavior. A woman smiles as a man makes a show of opening the car door for her. And Jayden promises to call Dakota sometime next week.

    This chapter has highlighted the many different kinds of performance that interest anthropologists. Under anthropology’s holistic approach, performance connects to topics from many earlier chapters, including rituals (Religion chapter) and gender (Gender and Sexuality chapter). As we have shown, explicit attention to various performance-based frameworks allows anthropologists to identify the learned and shared patterns of ideas and behaviors that constitute human experience and living. We started the chapter by noting that performance can be many things at once, making it important to so much of human cultural experiences. Cultural performances are the events that most readily fit the Western notion of a performance: clearly defined moments of heightened salience of some feature of a culture’s values or social structure. These performances call attention to issues that might otherwise go unnoticed by audience members and consequently can inspire or instigate action. Such performances also can preserve aspects of a culture or facilitate cultural revitalization. Performing culture, on the other hand, refers to the many diverse ways in which individuals both reflect and create cultural norms through daily activities, interactions, and behaviors. Culture does not, indeed cannot, exist simply as an abstract concept. Rather, it arises from the patterned flows of people’s lives—their ongoing performances.

    Anthropologists who study performance are interested in many of the same topics as other anthropologists, including: gender, religion, rituals, social norms, and conflict. Performance provides an alternative perspective for exploring and understanding those issues. Rather than studying rituals from a structural-functional perspective, for example, anthropologists can focus on performance and thereby better identify and understand theatrical structure and how communities use performance to accomplish the work of rituals. In short, performance anthropologists are interested not only in the products of social life but in the processes underlying it.

    (P.S. Good luck Jayden and Dakota!)


    What is the difference between studying something that is performance and studying something as a performance? Why is this distinction important?

    What is the role of performance in reflecting social order and values on the one hand and challenging these and leading to social change on the other? Provide examples of each.

    Explain the relationship between performance and cultural constructions of gender.

    How are descriptive and performative utterances different from each other, and what role to each play in verbal performance?

    What roles do performances play in everyday life, especially as these relate to hegemonic discourses?


    Agency: An individual’s ability to make independent choices and act upon his/her will.

    Community of practice: a group of people who engaged in a shared activity or vocation, such as dance or medicine.

    Cultural Performance: A performance such as a concert or a play.

    Discourse: Widely circulated knowledge within a community.

    Hegemonic discourses: Situations in which thoughts and actions are dictated by those in authority.

    Hegemony: Power so pervasive that it is rarely acknowledged or even recognized, yet informs everyday actions.

    Performativity: Words or actions that cause something to happen.

    Performing culture: Everyday words and actions that reflect cultural ideas and can be studied by anthropologists as a means of understanding a culture.

    Personal front: Aspects of one’s clothing, physical characteristics, comportment, and facial expressions that communicate an impression to others.

    Polysemy: Settings, situations, and symbols that convey multiple meanings.

    Presentation of self: The management of the impressions others have of us.

    Reflexivity: Awareness of how one’s own position and perspective impact what is observed and how it is evaluated.


    Dr. Lauren Miller Griffith is an assistant professor of anthropology at Texas Tech University. Her research agenda focuses on the intersections of performance, tourism, and education in Brazil, Belize, and the USA. Specifically, she focuses on the Afro-Brazilian martial art capoeira and how non-Brazilian practitioners use travel to Brazil, the art’s homeland, to increase their legitimacy within this genre. Dr. Griffith’s current interests include the links between tourism, cultural heritage, and sustainability in Belize. She is particularly interested in how indigenous communities decide whether or not to participate in the growing tourism industry and the long-term effects of these decisions.

    Dr. Jonathan S. Marion is an associate professor in the Department of Anthropology and a member of the Gender Studies Steering Committee at the University of Arkansas, and the author of Ballroom: Culture and Costume in Competitive Dance (2008), Visual Research: A Concise Introduction to Thinking Visually (2013, with Jerome Crowder), and Ballroom Dance and Glamour (2014). Currently the President of the Society for Humanistic Anthropology, and a Past-president of the Society of Visual Anthropology, Dr. Marion’s ongoing research explores the interrelationships between performance, embodiment, gender, and identity, as well as issues of visual research ethics, theory, and methodology.


    1. Richard Bauman and Pamela Ritch, “Informing Performance: Producing the Coloquio in Tierra Blanca,” Oral Tradition 9:2 (1994): 255.

    2. David M. Guss, The Festive State: Race, Ethnicity, and Nationalism as Cultural Performance (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2000), 9.

    3. Milton Singer, “The Great Tradition in a Metropolitan Center: Madras,” Journal of American Folklore (1958): 347–388.

    4. Singer, “The Great Tradition in a Metropolitan Center,” 351.

    5. See Anya Peterson Royce, Anthropology of the Performing Arts: Artistry, Virtuosity, and Interpretation in Cross-Cultural Perspective (Walnut Creek, Altamira Press, 2004).

    6. Victor Turner, The Anthropology of Performance (New York: Paj Publications, 1987).

    7. Richard Schechner, Between Theater and Anthropology (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2011).

    8. Richard Bauman, Verbal Art as Performance (Long Grove: Waveland Press, 1984).

    9. Turner, Anthropology of Performance, 23.

    10. Laura A. Lewis, Chocolate and Corn Flour: History, Race, and Place in the Making of “Black” Mexico (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2012).

    11. Jay Ruby, Picturing Culture: Explorations of Film and Anthropology (Chicago, University of Chicago Press, 2000): 240.

    12. Erving Goffman, The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life (New York, Anchor Books, 1959).

    13. Goffman, Presentation of Self.

    14. Ibid,, 24.

    15. Ibid.

    16. Judith Butler, Gender Trouble: Feminism and the Subversion of Identity (New York: Routledge, 1990); Judith Butler, Bodies That Matter: On the Discursive Limits of “Sex” (New York: Routledge, 1993).

    17. Marcel Mauss, “Techniques of the Body” Economy and Society 2:1 (1973): 70–89.

    18. Iris Marion Young, “Throwing Like a Girl: A Phenomenology of Feminine Body Comportment Motility and Spatiality” Human Studies 3:2 (1980): 137–156.

    19. Sports Illustrated August 25 (2014), Cover.

    20. Several authors have discussed the relationship between femininity and sport. On bodybuilding, see Anne Bolin, “Muscularity and Femininity: Women Bodybuilders and Women’s Bodies in Culturo-Historical Context,” in Fitness as Cultural Phenomenon, ed. Karina A. E. Volkwein (New York: Waxmann Münster, 1998). On figure skating, see Abigail M. Feder-Kane, “A Radiant Smile from the Lovely Lady,” in Reading Sport: Critical Essays on Power and Presentation, ed. Susan Birell and Mary G. McDonald (Boston: Northeastern University Press, 2000). On ballroom, see Jonathan S. Marion, Ballroom: Culture and Costume in Competitive Dance (Oxford: Berg, 2008) and Ballroom Dance and Glamour (London: Bloomsbury, 2014). See also Lisa Disch and Mary Jo Kane, “When a Looker Is Really a Bitch: Lisa Olson, Sport, and the Heterosexual Matrix,” in Reading Sport: Critical Essays on Power and Presentation, ed. Susan Birell and Mary G. McDonald (Boston: Northeastern University Press, 2000).

    21. Margaret Mead, Sex and Temperament: In Three Primitive Societies (New York: Perennial, 2001[1935]).

    22. Serena Nanda, Gender Diversity: Crosscultural Variation (Long Grove: Waveland, 2014).

    23. Serena Nanda, Neither Man nor Woman: The Hijras of India (New York: Cengage, 1998).

    24. Gilbert Herdt, The Sambia: Ritual, Sexuality, and Change in Papua New Guinea (New York: Cengage, 2005).

    25. Don Kulik, Travesti: Sex, Gender, and Culture among Brazilian Transgendered Prostitutes (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1998).

    26. Heather A. Williams, “Miss Homegrown: The Performance of Food, Festival, and Femininity in Local Queen Pageants” (Ph.D. dissertation, Bowling Green State University, 2009), 3.

    27. Ibid.

    28. Robert H. Lavenda, “Minnesota Queen Pageants: Play, Fun, and Dead Seriousness in a Festive Mode” Journal of American Folklore (1988): 168–175.

    29. Lavenda, “Queen Pageants,” 173.

    30. Ibid.

    31. Ibid., 171.

    32. Ibid.

    33. Turner, Anthropology of Performance.

    34. Ibid., 74.

    35. Ibid.

    36. Ibid.

    37. John Langshaw Austin, How to Do Things with Words (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1975).

    38. Victor Turner and Edith Turner, “Performing Ethnography,” in The Anthropology of Performance, ed. Victor Turner (New York: PAJ Publications, 1987): 139–155.

    39. Turner and Turner, “Performing Ethnography,” 142.

    40. Ibid.

    41. Schechner, Between Theatre and Anthropology.

    42. Bauman and Ritch, “Informing Performance.”

    43. Royce, Performing Arts.

    44. Royce, Performing Arts, 44.

    45. Schechner, Between Theatre and Anthropology.

    46. Bauman and Ritch, “Informing Performance.”

    47. Schechner, Between Theatre and Anthropology.

    48. Judith Hamera, “Performance, Performativity, and Cultural Poiesis in Practices of Everyday Life,” in The Sage Handbook of Performance Studies, eds. D. Soyini Madison and Judith Hamera, (Thousand Oaks: Sage Publications, Inc., 2006):50–51.

    49. Bauman, Others’ Words, 4.

    50. Bauman, Verbal Art.

    51. See Guss, Festive State.

    52. Bauman, Verbal Art.

    53. Royce, Performing Arts. For more on Pilobolus, see their website,

    54. Karin Barber, “Preliminary Notes on Audiences in Africa,” Africa 67:3 (1997): 347–362.

    55. Bauman and Ritch, “Informing Performance;” Bauman, Others’ Words; Royce, Performing Arts.

    56. Alessandro Duranti, “The Voice of the Audience in Contemporary American Political Discourse,” Georgetown University Round Table on Languages and Linguistics (2003): 114–134.

    57. Carla María Guerrón-Montero, “Can’t Beat Me Own Drum in Me Own Native Land: Calypso Music and Tourism in the Panamanian Atlantic Coast,” Anthropological Quarterly 79:4 (2006): 633–663.

    58. Guerrón-Montero, “Can’t Beat Me Own Drum.”

    59. Dwight Conquergood, “Health Theatre in a Hmong Refugee Camp: Performance, Communication, and Culture,” TDR 32:3 (1988): 174–208.

    60. Conquergood, “Health Theatre.”

    61. Karin Barber, “Text and Performance in Africa,” Oral Tradition 20:2 (2005): 324.

    62. Bauman, Others’ Words, 2.

    63. Ibid.

    64. Ibid., 7.

    65. Bauman and Ritch, “Informing Performance.”

    66. Bryant Keith Alexander, “Performing Culture and Cultural Performances in Japan: A Critical (Auto)Ethnographic Travelogue,” Theatre Annual 55 (2002): 3.

    67. Judith Hamera, “Dancing Communities: Performance, Difference, and Connection in the Global City,” in Studies in International Performance, ed. Janelle Reinelt and Brian Singleton (Houndmills, UK: Palgrave MacMillan, 2011).

    68. Hamera, “Dancing Communities,” 12.

    69. On the ballet world see Helena Wulff, Ballet Across Borders: Career and Culture in the World of Dancers (Oxford: Berg, 1998); on the ballroom world see Jonathan S. Marion, Ballroom: Culture and Costume in Competitive Dance (Oxford: Berg, 2008); on the salsa world see Jonathan S. Marion, “Contextualizing Content and Conduct in the LA and West Coast Salsa Scenes,” in Salsa World: A Global Dance in Local Contexts, ed. Sydney Hutchinson. (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 2013).

    70. Sydney Hutchinson, ed., Salsa World: A Global Dance in Local Contexts (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 2013).

    71. Arjun Appadurai, Modernity at Large: Cultural Dimensions of Globalization (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1996).

    72. Steven Feld, “Pygmy Pop: A Genealogy of Schizophonic Mimesis” Yearbook for Traditional Music (1996): 1–35.

    73. Ibid.

    74. Ibid.

    75. Hancock quoted in Feld, “Pygmy Pop,” 5.