v. Performative Pedagogy: A Review

Ross McKeehen Louis (2002) Critical Performative Pedagogy: Augusto Boal’s Theatre of the Oppressed in the English as a Second Language Classroom. Unpublished Ph.D. Thesis: Louisiana State University. 

Although this Ph.D. thesis focuses on teaching in the English as a Second Language Classroom, it presents a literature review of theory on performative pedagogy, which I found useful in mapping out the key thinkers and concepts.

Key thinkers



What is performative pedagogy?

A means of ‘captivating my student audiences […] with enough enthusiasm, creativity and humor’ (98)

‘performative pedagogy concerns the action taken within the classroom to construct knowledge’ (101).

Performative pedagogy as ‘body-centred practice, as resting on improvised, contingent dialogue, and as invoking a healthy sense of risk for both teachers and students’ (102).

‘Performative pedagogy happens amidst the conversation between critical pedagogy and performance theory’ (100) with an emphasis on ‘process and embodied action (100).

Roots in Performance Studies

Performance Studies occupies a liminal space between different disciplines (106), taking literary and non-literary texts as  objects of study, and seeing performance as ‘a method of enacting or embodying those texts but also as a legitimate objects of study’ (104). This discipline also has an ‘epistemological commitment to inclusivity’ (105) in the sense that it does not privilege academic authority instead looking to the interpretation of the audience and performer. Furthermore, performance methodologies engage the senses and the body. Building on this, performative pedagogy might be seen as ‘an exercise in the tenuous relationship between text and performance’ (104) that has long vexed performance scholars. ‘As cultural texts, education and the schooling process are themselves performatively generated’ (104). The question here is what does it mean to embody an educational text?

‘there are aesthetic events that cultures traditionally label performances, and there are other events that operate per formatively by exaggerating, masking, or otherwise altering some behavior for some intended effect. Performance Studies embraces both what is conspicuously marked as performance and what can be seen as performance though it may be “unmarked” as such’ (106)Critique of existing literature

Some research in education and performance has succeed in building ‘sophisticated bridges between performance and pedagogy’ (99) although some writing on performance as a method for the classroom has undermined ‘the richness of the performance metaphor’ (Pineau as cited in Louis 2002, p.99).

‘I criticize applications of performance to pedagogy that rely on metaphors of the teacher as performing artist or drama exercises in the classroom for their basis in an “impoverished sense of performance” which “diminishes the complexity of educational interactions”‘ (Louis 2002, p.101, citing Pineau).

John Warren: Three Performative Modes 

  1. Recognises the lives of students and teachers as socially constructed via performative processes
  2. Recognise bodies of teacher and students as culturally and historically located
  3. Teacher’s body/performativity as ‘a way of speaking’ to the student work (Louis 2002, p.106 citing Warren)

Louis then quotes at length from Warren’s text:

‘My vision of critical performative pedagogy is one that privileges the body, mind, and spirit of educational bodies. […] My vision also makes space for them to see the political in every pedagogical situation, regardless of whether that teacher foregrounds it. My vision calls for a balance between democratic collaborative pedagogy and teacherly authority […] My role of critical performative pedagogy values the transformative, the critical, the reflexive, the bodily, and the belief that with possibility there is hope for all students’ (Warren as cited in Louis 2002: p.107)

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