Performance Theory Essay

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Performance is a manifestation of knowledge through and on bodies situated in culture. All performance theory assumes everyday and aesthetic (e.g., “on stage,” etc.) performances are necessarily interdependent and therefore ought to be subject to similar scrutiny. In order to understand performance theories in education, one first needs a functional understanding of performance studies. Craig Gingrich-Philbrook, in his 1998 article “Disciplinary Violation as Gender Violation,” offers a definition useful to teachers and scholars of education when he states that “performance studies occurs at a point of speculation about the scale and durability of knowledge brought to consciousness before a particular audience, the aesthetics of this production, and its relationship to similar events for other audiences.”

Three distinct modes of research characterize performance theories in education: everyday and aesthetic performance events as sites of research; performance as a method of inquiry; “performance” as an explanatory metaphor. Performance theory in education might therefore include studies of representations of education already existing in any genre or medium, new performances specifically intended to create knowledge about education, or studies that assume some aspect of education is “like a performance.” These three modes of research are often engaged in useful combinations.

Performance theory in education is linked through its history in the academy to the study of culture in disciplines including (but not limited to) anthropology, communication, theater, and sociology. Some significant research topics have included performance of identities (such as race, class, gender, sexuality, and ability), performance and methodology (such as per formative writing and performance ethnography), and performance politics (e.g., teaching is/as performance). Performance theory in education is somewhat similar to arts-based inquiry, but these research paradigms are fairly distinct with little evidence of collaboration among practitioners.


  1. Alexander, B. K., Anderson, G. L., & Gallegos, B. P. (2005). Performance theories in education. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.
  2. Conquergood, D. (2002). Performance Studies: Inventions and radical research. The Drama Review, 46, 145–56.
  3. Gingrich-Philbrook, C. (1998). Disciplinary violation as gender violation: The stigmatized masculine voice of performance studies. Communication Theory, 8, 203–220.
  4. Pelias, R. J., & Van Oosting, J. (1987). A paradigm for performance studies. Quarterly Journal of Speech, 73. 219–231.

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