Conducting Embodied Research at the Intersection of Performance Studies, Experimental Ethnography and Indigenous Methodologies
Magnat, Virginie, Anthropologica
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.
While feminist ethnographers are committed to creating "more humane and dialogic accounts that would more fully and more collaboratively represent the diversity of women's experience" (Lassiter 2005:56), for indigenous ethnographers, consultation with community members is meant to ensure that the research they are conducting is mutually beneficial. In both cases, lived experience and accountability are linked and the researcher bears a moral responsibility to the community. When reflecting on his ethnography of Kiowa songs, Lassiter acknowledges that what mattered most to the Kiowa community was the power his interpretation would have in "defining [this community] to the outside - and to future generations of Kiowas for that matter." The questions that emerged from the research process were therefore about "who has control and who has the last word" (2005:11). Indeed, what is ultimately relevant to the Kiowa people is the power of the songs, for it is the embodied experience of singing these songs which sustains the cultural continuity of the Kiowa community.
"Meetings with Remarkable Women/Tu es la fille de quelqu'un," the SSHRC-funded research project1 1 am currently conducting with women artists whose experiential approaches to performance vitally depend on embodiment, similarly hinges upon questions of accountability, relevance, and reciprocity. Indeed, for these women from different cultures and generations, who often work with ancient traditional songs, it is the power of performance, transmitted through their teaching and performing, which gives meaning to their creative work as members of a transnational community of artists who share a direct connection to Jerzy Grotowski's groundbreaking performance research.
The significance of the cross-cultural research conducted by the Polish director was recognized through his appointment, in 1997, to the Chair of Theatre Anthropology of the Collège de France in Paris. …