Conducting Embodied Research at the Intersection of Performance Studies, Experimental Ethnography and Indigenous Methodologies

By Magnat, Virginie | Anthropologica, July 1, 2011 | Go to article overview

Conducting Embodied Research at the Intersection of Performance Studies, Experimental Ethnography and Indigenous Methodologies


Magnat, Virginie, Anthropologica


Abstract: Grounding embodied research in Indigenous methodologies as well as feminist, sensory and experimental ethnography, I propose an alternative performance-based approach modelled on the creative work of women from different cultures and generations who collaborated with influential theatre innovator Jerzy Grotowski. I infer from my experimental fieldwork and embodied research on the work of these artists that positionality, relationality, relevance, respect, and reciprocity are critical to articulating experiential ways of cognition beyond the limitations imposed by dominant conceptions of knowledge. Having foregrounded the Indigenous and environmentalist critique of performance-based methodologies derived from the work of Augusto Boal and Paulo Freire, I suggest that alternative approaches which allow for the interrelation of creativity, agency, embodiment and spirituality can help promote more diverse and inclusive perspectives.

Keywords: embodiment, performance, indigenous methodologies, Grotowski

Résumé : Mon approche performative de la recherche incarnée intègre les principes des méthodologies indigènes ainsi que de l'ethnographie féministe, sensorielle et expérimentale, et prend pour modèle le travail créatif de femmes de générations et de cultures diverses qui ont collaboré avec Jerzy Grotowski, un des plus importants praticiens du théâtre expérimental. Mon travail de terrain, fondé sur un processus de recherche qui passe par le corps, démontre que ce sont la positionnante, la relationnalité, la pertinence, le respect et la réciprocité qui permettent de définir certains modes de cognition expérientielle situés au-delà des limites imposées par les conceptions dominantes de la connaissance. Ayant examiné la critique indigène et écologiste des méthodologies performatives dérivées du travail d'Augusto Boal et de Paulo Freiré, je suggère qu'une démarche qui valorise l'interaction de la créativité, l'agence humaine, l'expérience vécue et la spiritualité, peut favoriser desperspectives de recherche plus sensibles à la diversité et l'inclusivité.

Mots-clés : Incarnation, performance, méthodologies indigènes, Grotowski

Embodied Research

Embodiment, lived experience and intersubjectivity are key to experimental approaches articulated at the intersection of performance and ethnography. Yet the slippery nature of the territories which this research proposes to investigate has often contributed to undermining its academic credibility Since embodied experience eludes and possibly exceeds cognitive control, accounting for its destabilizing function within the research process potentially endangers dominant conceptions of knowledge upon which the legitimacy of academic discourses so crucially depends.

Within the discipline of anthropology, alternative ethnographic models that account for the lived experience of researchers and research participants have arguably been most compellingly articulated by indigenous and feminist ethnographers. Lassiter notes that American Indian scholars were among the first to produce a radical critique of ethnographic fieldwork and to "call for models that more assertively attend to community concerns, models that would finally put to rest the lingering reverberations of anthropology's colonial past" (2005:6). Lassiter further remarks that feminist scholars, writing "as women whose knowledge is situated vis-à-vis their male counterparts" are already positioned as Other (2005:59). Indigenous and feminist anthropologists therefore raise related epistemological and methodological questions about ethnographic authority and the politics of representation because they share similar concerns about the ways in which conventional methodologies enable researchers positioned within the academy to authoritatively speak for the Other (Lassiter 2005:56, 59). Positioning oneself from within the community they are studying and accounting for their own embodied participation in the culture of that community has led indigenous and feminist researchers to develop alternative research methodologies which foreground embodiment, lived experience and intersubjectivity, and which privilege collaboration and reciprocity.

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