Music Matters. Materiality, Knowings and Practices in Performing Arts


Perspectives from Gender Studies

Evelyn Annuß

As a transversal field of critical research, Gender Studies is paradigmatic for the transdisciplinary design of the Structured Doctoral Programme “Music Matters. Materiality, Knowings and Practices in Performing Arts”. Focusing on music and performing arts, on theater and film, mdw Gender Studies links aesthetics, cultural and social studies and is therefore open to a wide variety of research interests. They encompass the analysis of art works, theoretical and methodological reflections on practices of knowledge production in the arts, their situatedness and the gendering of underlying figures of thought. Inquiring the specificity of aesthetic forms in this sense includes comparative, historical and transcultural vantage points (Hausen 2020, Hemetek et al. 2019), addressing questions of intersectionality (Crenshaw et al.1995, Walgenbach et al. 2012), coloniality (Federici 2017, Lugones 2008), exclusion and inequality (Klinger et al. 2007), as well as the prerequisites of what may count as art in differing contexts.

However, the contribution of Gender Studies goes beyond its particular cross-disciplinarity: ephemerality has long been understood as a unique characteristic of performing arts. Accordingly, Theater Studies has located stage performances solely in the here and now – stressing the co-presence of the audience as well as the volatility of physical appearances (Fischer-Lichte 2004). With regard to everyday life, feminist research and queer theory have tended to underline deconstructive perspectives on embodiment in order to determine femininity and masculinity as citational (Menke 1993). In Judith Butler's Gender Trouble, to name one of the most prominent texts, performative practices were therefore read in reference to their preconditions and potential effects (Butler 1990). With Bodies that Matter, materiality became conceptualized as "a process of materialization that stabilizes over time to produce the effect of boundary, fixity, and surface we call matter" (Butler 1993). Respectively, Gender Studies has also helped to rethink the concept of performativity in the context of performing arts by exposing their relationship to the off-stage.

Donna Haraway's recent call for Staying with the Trouble in a state of planetary  ̶  i.e. ecological as well as economic  ̶  crisis has further reshaped this performative take on materiality in the age of the "capitalocene" (Haraway 2016) and taken it beyond deconstructive agendas. Linking her work to the feminist critique of anthropomorphism or anthropocentrism developed since the 1970s (Irigaray 2011) while at the same time reflecting on its reductionist binarisms, Haraway situates her view of materiality within a broader understanding of what Gender Studies may embrace as research topics and how to accomplish it. Her reworking of our notion of kinship comes along with a preference for speculative thinking, which can be read in close relation to artistic forms and as a mode of critically reflecting on scientific practices of knowledge production and their definition of materiality as factual. This is where the question of the politicality of specific aesthetic forms comes into play.

Against this backdrop, Gender Studies within the mdw Structured Doctoral Programme opens up the inquiry of arts and performing to current debates on how to rethink new materialism (Barad 2007, Latour 2018) in the context of a fundamental change in social relations and media configurations, the concomitant crisis of binary thought systems (Halberstam 2018, Preciado 2016), genealogical reasoning (Haß 2020) and modes of subjectivation (Bröckling 2017, Kastner/Susemichel 2018). Potential research projects may thus involve the analysis of specific aesthetic forms and their societal context, works of art neglected by the canon, as well as contemporary reflections on the status of bodies on stage/in space, the affective implications of how they are read and ultimately the interrelation of performativity, materiality and knowledge production.


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Bröckling, Ulrich 2017: Gute Hirten führen sanft. Über Menschenregierungskünste. Berlin: Suhrkamp.

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