Call for Papers: Engaging with Dissonance in Performance Research

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Deadline: 1 February 2019


The Theatre and Performance Research Association (TaPRA) is pleased to announce the Call for Papers for its 2019 Postgraduate Symposium, in collaboration with the Standing Committee of UK Drama Departments (SCUDD). The symposium will take place on Wednesday 13th March at the Faculty of English, University of Oxford.

Dissonance implies conflict or discord, whether that be cognitive, or cultural, or perhaps, musical. According to Leon Festinger’s theory of cognitive dissonance (1957), people are psychologically motivated to engage in behaviour orientated towards reduction of disharmony, in preference of an internal consistency. In practice, this theory suggests that when confronted with something that challenges our perception of ourselves, or our way of behaving in the world, we instinctively try to resolve the feeling of dissonance. Ziva Kunda (1990) developed this concept further, observing how motivation affects reasoning, resulting in a rationalization, an altering of our perception of the factors involved, to justify behaviour and confirm bias. The existence of the dissonant problem, thus becomes obscured. Yet, Chantal Mouffe’s agonistic model of democracy highlights that unresolvable, incommensurable conflict is both natural and necessary (2013). Rather than collude in a fallacy of consensus she argues in favour of embracing a more pluralistic approach that acknowledges and allows for difference, replete with its disagreements and antagonisms.

In the contemporary context of performance research, dissention and antagonism is palpably evident. Socio-politically, the rise of populist movements worldwide, the impact of ten years of austerity measures in the UK, and the continued experiences of intersectional inequalities discriminating difference, including race, gender, sexuality and disability, contradict neoliberal assumptions of social progress. Within academia, there is renewed debate around issues relating to access, value and modes of research. In particular, universities have been challenged to decolonise and de-canonise curriculums that have obscured non-western contributions to knowledge (Bhambra, Gebrial and Nisanciaglu, 2018). Yet, the work of diversity within institutions is perhaps conflated with reactions towards complaint and becomes particularly difficult when, as Sarah Ahmed notes, ‘to locate a problem is to become the location of a problem’ (2017). More broadly, the act of research, and also the process of encountering performance, might be considered as an openness to a chance encounter that might well contradict or, at least unsettle, pre-conceived ideas of what we think we know. Marissa Fragkou suggests that, in theatrical performance, staging dissonance might be used as an ethico-political tool to ask ‘difficult ethical questions’ about issues of social justice (2018). The theme of this symposium, therefore, invites discussion of the ways in which performance practice and/or performance research might engage with dissonance.

We invite presentations that relate with the theme of ‘Engaging with Dissonance’ in all forms of theatre practice, performance, performance studies, formal and informal performer training, stagecraft and theatre/drama in education. Themes might include, but are not limited to:

  • Dissonance in performance, as an aesthetic or political practice.
  • Conflicting ideas in research and/or performance – the process of doing research and practice today.
  • Encountering moments of discord in practice and research.
  • Challenging canons or repertoire or concepts.
  • Doing and disseminating research differently.
  • Revealing or performing antagonisms.
  • Practices of conflictual consensus. 

Papers (15mins), provocations (10mins) and alternative presentations (15mins) from postgraduates at all levels of study, postdoctoral researchers and early career academics, are welcome. Please note that this will not be in a performance studio, so technical requirements are limited, although we welcome suggestions for alternative forms of sharing work. As we are committed to fostering an inclusive environment, please let us know if there are any access provisions that would better enable you to participate.  

The symposium will include a rehearsed reading of an extract from JC Niala’s play Unsettled, collected in the new anthology, Contemporary Plays by African Women(published January 2019), which JC Niala will introduce. There will also be a panel curated and hosted by SCUDD’s PG officer, Harriet Richmond on ‘Transitions into the Academy: Advice for Early and Second-Career Academics’. 

The symposium is free and open to all postgraduates currently enrolled on a postgraduate course and early career researchers. 

Abstracts should be 250 words in length. All abstracts should be sent to When submitting your abstract, please also include a short biography (no more than 50 words) and a brief note on technical requirements (if any) in the same document. Those wishing to use alternative approaches to presenting research, such as performance lectures, are asked to include an additional 100 words detailing your intended presentation methods.

To support access to participation in this event TaPRA and SCUDD have allocated funds for a number of bursaries to cover travel costs and/or any other required access costs. Should you wish to be considered for a bursary, please include a statement with your proposal to support your request, including an estimated cost of travel/access costs of up to £100. A selection panel of TaPRA and SCUDD executive members will award bursaries based on:

  1. Quality of presentation proposal,
  2. The extent to which the applicant will benefit from attending,
  3. The financial need that might otherwise impede participation.

Our intention is that those who may not otherwise be able to participate in the event are supported to do so. 

All correspondence should be directed to Hannah Greenstreet and Cathy Sloan via

The deadline for submitting your proposal is 5pm on 1st February 2019. We will be unable to accept submissions after this deadline. Notifications will be sent by the end of February 2019.

Hannah Greenstreet and Cathy Sloan (TaPRA PG representatives)  

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