Perform or Else: From Discipline to Performance

Perform or Else: From Discipline to Performance

Perform or Else: From Discipline to Performance

Perform or Else: From Discipline to Performance


'Performance' has become one of the key terms for the new century. But what do we mean by 'performance'? In today's world it can refer to experimental art; productivity in the workplace; and the functionality of technological systems. Do these disparate fields bear any relation to each other?In Perform or Else Jon McKenzie asserts that there is a relationship cultural, organisational, and technological performance. In this theoretical tour de force McKenzie demonstrates that all three paradigms operate together to create powerful and contradictory pressures to 'perform...or else'. This is an urgent and important intervention in contemporary critical thinking. It will profoundly shape our understanding of twenty-first century structures of power and knowledge.




To construct a general theory of performance, we first examine different models or paradigms which help to compose it. These performance paradigms are themselves composed of movements of generalization, by which diverse activities are gathered together and conceptualized as performance. This chapter focuses on the Performance Studies paradigm and its field of cultural performance, and I analyze both in terms of the challenge of social efficacy. To theorize this challenge, we will look at its interdisciplinary origins, its practical and theoretical models, and the development of the paradigm over the past five decades.

The field of cultural performance that has emerged over the last half century includes a wide variety of activities situated around the world. These include traditional and experimental theater; rituals and ceremonies; popular entertainments, such as parades and festivals; popular, classical, and experimental dance; avant-garde performance art; oral interpretations of literature, such as public speeches and readings; traditions of folklore and storytelling; aesthetic practices found in everyday life, such as play and social interactions; political demonstrations and social movements. This list is open to additions, subtractions, and debate, but from it one can see that cultural performance is cultural in the widest sense of the term, stretching from “high” to “low” culture, though its most ardent proponents stress its countercultural aspects.

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