Taking Performance Seriously: an investigation into young people’s performance and radical
citizenship in East Africa
Royal Holloway, University of London
Supervisor: Professor Helen Nicholson
Performance in East Africa has not been widely researched. Studies have focused on Theatre for Development initiatives, which emphasise the instrumental value of participatory performance and fail torepresent the vibrant and diverse arts practice in the region. Moving contemporary debates in Performances Studies beyond explorations of the intrinsic or instrumental value of the arts, this interdisciplinary projectbetween Drama and Geography looks to find more effective ways of articulating and understanding the value of cultural participation. Drawing on theorists such as Chantal Mouffe and Jacques Ranciére, Taking Performance Seriously employs a framework of radical citizenship to explore the social and political effects that occur in the moment of performance. This project understands citizenship as a performative-act, which becomes radical when young people build their own democratic spaces to explore their social and political identities. Performance doesn’t suppress antagonism, but offers an alternative space to be radical within. Young people across East Africa are using performance to effect change. I will work with three grassroots arts organisations from Uganda and Kenya, operating in different performance disciplines, to explore the following research questions: what are the social and political effects of young people’s performance-acts; how are young people altering their lives and challenging their communities? How might concepts of radical citizenship illuminate how young people are engaging with the arts, and reframe the value of cultural participation in East Africa? What challenges does a focus on the act of performance pose to understanding its effects on a wider community and legacy of arts practice in the region? This project draws on the experience and perspective of young East Africans, offering new insights to Performance and Citizenship Studies, whilst exploring how performance in the region resonates with contemporary debates in development.