TaPRA 2019, Exeter, Performance, Identity and Community WG: Performance, Futurity and Progress

Deadline: Tuesday 16 April 2019

‘Through the power of affect, usefully explored and even harnessed at the theater, perhaps progressives can once again persuade one another that a better world doesn’t have to be an out-of-reach ideal, but a process of civic engagement that brings it incrementally closer’ (Dolan 2005: 21)

‘…optimism is cruel when the object/scene that ignites a sense of possibility actually makes it impossible to attain the expansive transformation for which a person or a people risks striving’ (Berlant 2011: 2)   For TaPRA’s 2019 Annual Conference, the Performance, Identity and Community working group invites papers, short provocations and performative presentations on the themes of futurity and progress. This focus offers lines of flight that extend from the group’s previous focus on anarchism, optimism and performance in 2018 and frames of legibility in 2017 to consider the social, ethical and political logics that organise understandings of and engagements with the future. Our starting point is a concern for how ideas of futurity and progress serve to organise our knowledge of the past in ways that make certain futures seem inevitable, while rendering others unthinkable – a concern that we propose to explore in light of theatre and performance’s capacity to imagine and rehearse other worlds. How does the rhetoric of progress help us to imagine the future, in and through performance? Alternatively, how might a focus on progress and forward movement serve to delimit the domain of the political?

Drawing on Dolan’s seminal Utopia in Performance (2005) and her belief in the potentiality of theatre to rehearse a ‘better world’, along with more recent queer and feminist theories which scrutinise ideas of futurity, optimism and happiness (Ahmed 2010; Berlant 2011; Muñoz 2009), we wish to revisit the particular affects mobilized by ‘utopia’ and ‘optimism’ in relation to futurity and progress in performance. In Cruel Optimism, Lauren Berlant suggests how an attachment to particular visions of a future good life can come to impede the goals that brought us to those ideas in the first place. For Berlant, ‘a relation of cruel optimism exists when something you desire is actually an obstacle to your flourishing’ (2011: 1). What kinds of attachments are involved in progress and progressiveness? How do the temporalities of optimism and nostalgia affect how we view this present moment and its relationship with the past and the future? In asking these questions, we are also interested in how the rhetoric of progress or progressiveness articulates or enacts the claim on a particular kind of political capital – not merely describing who is able to determine that we are setting off on the ‘right path’, but investing individuals, communities and societies with the social authority to act. Who is able to take part in developing – and enacting – visions of progress?

We are also interested in exploring historically and culturally divergent visions of progress, and their potential relationship to logics of empire and civilisation. Wendy Brown’s Regulating Aversion (2006) argues for how tolerance – one of the most often invoked moral qualities of progressiveness – can serve to legitimate Western cultural and political imperialism by designating ‘certain beliefs and practices as civilized and others as barbaric’ (2006: 7). How might performance give a history to progress which resists its framing as a kind of transcendental virtue? What might be involved in decolonising narratives of progress and futurity?

Finally, we are interested in attending to the ecological implications of progress and futurity. To what extent is progressiveness bound up with ideas of sustainability and resilience? How can theatre and performance’s grasp of progress help prepare us for the significant disruptions facing our global culture in the era of irreversible climate change? Can a rethinking of progress help us discover new priorities and new ways of thinking an uncertain future into existence?

Contributions might include without being limited by the following topics:

  • Performance, progress and fascism
  • Performance, progress and nationhood
  • Performance and liberal politics/liberalism
  • Progress and de/colonisation
  • Performance and ecology
  • Performance and crisis
  • Marxist theories of progress and futurity
  • Feminist futures
  • Queer futures
  • Cruel optimism and cruel nostalgia
  • Utopia/dystopia and performance
  • Future ruins and the dustbin of history

Submitting a proposal

Please send a 300-word (max.) proposal and a short biography in a Word document via email.

Please also include precise details of your resourcing needs, for example, any audio-visual technology, or a particular type of space (e.g. drama studio) that you will need to make your presentation.

Email abstracts and information to the Working Group conveners, Marissia Fragkou, Steve Greer and Adam Alston – via the following email address: pic@tapra.org   The deadline for the submission of proposals is Tuesday 16th April 2019.

    Early Career Researchers Bursary Scheme: If you are an Early Career Researcher, then you are eligible to be considered for a TaPRA ECR Bursary. Please follow this link for more information, and please indicate on your proposal whether you fit the criteria and wish to be considered for the bursary scheme: http://tapra.org/bursaries/

Postgraduate Bursary Scheme: There will be a separate call for PG Bursaries later in the year, but please do indicate in your proposal whether you are planning on applying to the scheme.

Cheers, and we hope to see you at Surrey!

Marissia, Steve and Adam


Ahmed, Sara (2010) The Promise of Happiness, Durham and London: Duke University Press.

  Berlant, Lauren (2011) Cruel Optimism, Durham and London: Duke University Press.

Brown, Wendy (2006) Regulating Aversion: Tolerance in the Age of Identity and Empire, Princeton: Princeton University Press.

Dolan, Jill (2005) Utopia in Performance: Finding Hope at the Theater, Ann Arbor: The University of Michigan Press.

Muñoz, José Esteban (2009) Cruising Utopia: The Then and There of Queer Futurity, New York: New York University Press.


Please note: only one proposal may be submitted for a TaPRA event. It is not permitted to submit multiple proposals or submit the same proposal to several Calls for Participation. All presenters must be TaPRA members, i.e. registered for the event; this includes presentations given by Skype or other media broadcast even where the presenter may not physically attend the event venue.

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