Juggling power: Performing ethnography in postsocialist Poland

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This dissertation is an autoethnographic account of my interdisciplinary Ph.D. research project - conducted in postsocialist Poland between May 2001 and June 2003 - which explored theatre performance as an ethnographic research methodology. I document and analyse the process through which the relations of power in the field challenged my original research field, plans, objectives, assumptions, theoretical frameworks, and methodologies that were to guide my fieldwork; and forced me to rearticulate and critically reflect on my role as ethnographer and theatre artist. At the center of my discussion are three ethnographic theatre projects -Dance as I Play You, Horses and Angels, and Hope - I developed in collaboration with my coinvestigator, Shawn Kazubowski-Houston, and with the research participants. The first two performances were created with student actors from the Cultural Centre for International Cooperation in the Arts in Elblag, and explored themes of intolerance, racism, gender and violence. Hope, created with student actors and five Roma women from Elblag, examined issues of racism, sexism, and violence in relation to Roma. This thesis analyses the relations of power as they were negotiated in the various stages of the project, including the building of rapport with research participants, my professional engagement with the Cultural Centre, the development process, the public presentation, and audience and participant responses to the performances. The participants' struggles over representation, resulting from disparate notions of aesthetics, ethnography, and the political, are the focal points of the study. My analysis draws from Antonio Gramsci's and Michel Foucault's conceptions of power; and Johannes Fabian's, Dwight Conquergood's, Jim Mienczakowski's, and Paul Stoller's approaches to participatory and performative ethnography. It also explores the Polish avant-garde theatres of Jerzy Grotowski, Tadeusz Kantor, and Jozef Szajna; and the political theatres of Bertolt Brecht and socialist Poland, and their influences on my work. I discuss my re-conceptualisation of performative ethnography, and my roles as ethnographer and artist, as the outcomes of the study. To conclude, I consider an ethnography of discovery as the trajectory I envision for my future ethnographic journey, and for any study of this kind.

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Special Arrangements: Sociology and Anthropology - Simon Fraser University
Thesis type: 
Thesis (Ph.D.)