THEMED ISSUE 29:3
Call for Papers
Performing Solidarities or Solidarities performed
Edited by Réka Polonyi and Kirsten Sadeghi-Yekta
October 17, 2019. Riots broke out in Lebanon in response to heightened economic pressure and corruption scandals surrounding the political elite. Within days, people flooded the streets, repurposed public spaces, organised public debates and mass actions. As a resident at the time, I, Réka, found myself caught up in trying to find my place as both a foreign national and an ally to the struggle of my Lebanese friends and colleagues. Do I stand alongside them, shout the chants in my rusty Arabic, share the face cloth when there’s tear gas? Or do I stand quietly on the side – present, but on the margins? This was not ‘my fight’, I was often reminded; it was clear that I was here to listen, not necessarily to be heard or noticed. I soon found my place: I joined the garbage collective, a group of volunteers who met up every morning to pick up the rubbish on the streets of the protests. Here, in the sleepy hours of the morning, no one questioned who I was, or why I was there: every revolution leaves some rubbish in its wake.
The Lebanese riots bring to light various concerns around the idea of solidarity, or the idea of ‘unity (as of a group or class) that produces or is based on community of interests, objectives, and standards’ (Merriam-Webster). When does a ‘quiet’ act of solidarity speak louder than its more directly-recognised, public enactments? How is it performed without necessarily drawing attention to its enactment, and when is this the appropriate response? In the immediacy of an event, how can solidarity be embodied, rather than stated? In this themed issue, we ask, what purpose does solidarity serve in applied theatre and performance? We are particularly interested in capturing the possibly ‘quiet’, micro-practices of solidarity that occur not only within sites of struggle, but also in everyday life.
Critical positionality is a feature of solidarity. Many aspects of solidarity are implicit in works of applied theatre and performance, which are deeply embedded in community involvement and rely on one’s critical positionality. Participatory theatre-making often values relationality and involves the creation of meaningful and respectful environments. And yet the word ‘solidarity’ is not commonly referred to within current scholarship in applied theatre arts. Solidarity is articulated as a moment of inter-relational care – of ‘affective solidarity’ (Thompson 2015) – which deliberately counters a ‘careless’ society. Is solidarity, then, an act of attentiveness, kindness and attunement? Or, on the contrary, is it a process of recognising differences and distinctiveness in personal opinions, behaviours and actions, rather than of ‘finding common grounds’ or identifying others ‘like us’ (Walhof 2006)? Diana Taylor (2020) argues for being ‘presente’ with and alongside participants. ‘To be’, she writes, ‘I have to walk and talk with others’ (Taylor 2020, 2). Negotiating the idea of presence enables us to re-examine what she calls a form of ‘cognitive imperialism’ within our artistic practices. In other words, walking and talking alongside others, and at times deliberately choosing to be silent and to listen, can both be forms of solidarity. In Taylor’s work, solidarity is implied in the idea of non-presence or in the act of deliberate silence – and in what silence can signify in applied theatre practices as a way to listen, to hear, and not to interrupt. When is the knowledge of when to stay quiet a form of solidarity (if at all)? Similarly to Diana Taylor’s questioning of ‘cognitive imperialism’ through presence, activist and scholar Harsha Walia calls for replacing a ‘politics of solidarity’ with a ‘practice of decolonisation’. She argues that this involves creating ‘a radical terrain for struggle where our common visions for justice do not erase our different social locations, and similarly, that our differing identities do not prevent us from walking together towards transformation and mutual respect’ (Walia 2012: 254). Is solidarity then – instead of avoiding conflicts of beliefs – a way to engage with a multitude of voices potentially all existing within dissonance?The lack of focused theorisation of solidarity in applied theatre and performance – and the sense that applied theatre assumes it is performing solidarity – asks for this urgent themed issue.
The last few years have seen various expressions of solidarity in relation to tragedies around the world. The global COVID-19 pandemic, the killing of George Floyd and the (re)ignited Black Lives Matter movement, the humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan, the war in Ukraine, the women’s movement in Iran, are just a few examples of moments when individuals were engaged in finding their performance(s) of solidarity. Whether it was the act of ‘clapping for the health care workers’ (during lockdown in the UK and Canada), uploading a blank social media profile photo (as a sign of allyship with BLM), or flying kites (see Good Chance Theatre’s Kite Festival for Afghanistan), we have had to locate and navigate our positions as being spectators-in-solidarity, participants-in-solidarity, or marching in solidarity ‘alongside’ others. Some joined mass, performed actions of solidarity – such as protests or on social media – whereas others felt less inclined to join in what could arguably be seen as a spectacle or commodification of solidarity (Nash 2008; Vastergaard 2008). Large, visible enactments of solidarity, although often very effective in inciting mass participation, can also be seen as narcissistic sentimentalism (Nash 2008: 177). Media scholar Lilie Chouliaraki, for instance, extensively writes on the critical emergence of a ‘post-humanitarian’ solidarity, which is made of loud gestures that provide an instant sense of gratification and reveal more about the individual self rather than the cause, or the ‘vulnerable other’ (2011). Chouliaraki believes we are thus becoming ‘ironic spectators’ (Chouliaraki 2013) of things going wrong in the world. Tensions in these ‘louder’ forms can also be noted by expressions of solidarity arising from grassroots and media generated public debates in which ‘everyday people participate in unequal ways in constructing this debate and its parameters’ (Siapera 2019), where solidarity is becoming an expression that is widely accessible, but potentially more equalized in access rather than in nature. Spectacles of solidarity – loud, statement-led – are nuanced in complexity, as intention does not always correlate with best practices. There is a story told by the activist artist Banksy, during his work among many other street artists leaving their marks of solidarity on the West Bank’s Separation Wall in the occupied Palestinian Territories (recounted in Parry 2010: 10):
Old Man: You paint the wall, you make it look beautiful.
Old Man: We don’t want it to be beautiful. We hate this wall, go home.
The questions this raises for applied theatre and performance are how best practices relate to critical positionality, and how good intentions of ‘performing solidarity’ can potentially harm the people and communities involved.
Commonly-recognised forms of solidarity are also visible in the theatre arts industry, as Bree Hadley (2020) points out in her work on allies, ally skills and allyship in disability arts. Performances of solidarity by ‘allies of convenience’ are aimed to benefit the individual and can look like a number of things: ‘be it tokenistic mainstream work, community work facilitated by allies who fail to afford disabled artists control and/or financial benefit, or companies that present disabled artists work but only in tagged ‘disability arts’ programmes separate to their main activities’ (Hadley 2020: 179). The kind of solidarity that valued allies do falls in the skill set described by Hadley as: ‘professional, social, and singular – all allies must remember their privilege, listen, accept the realities oppressed people describe, and allow oppressed colleagues and/or audiences to speak for themselves’ (180). Bradley endorses this form of ‘social allyship’ in disability arts, as it can be a start of outlining the requirements for professional, social and aesthetic support for artworkers (185).
Can solidarity be seen as reciprocal co-perception (Walhof 2006) in which teachings of otherness are vital? Our interest in quiet, micro practices of solidarity in applied theatre and performance follows the rationale that these performances often go unnoticed, or do not necessarily enter the scope and language of more commonly recognised acts of solidarity. They are not the loud, deliberate brush strokes on a giant separation wall. They are not always clear, and well-defined forms of expression. Although the editors of this themed issue recognise the significance and importance of acts that catch the public’s and authorities’ attention, what does it look like when, as philosopher Gadamer (2009) proposes, solidarity does not leave the other completely other, nor does it make the other same? Is there even reciprocity in acts (or intention) of solidarity? If not, is this vital for the work that we are undertaking?
For this special themed issue, we are inviting research articles (6000 words), as well as reflective accounts of artistic works, interviews, and other conceptual explorations of solidarity (1500 words) in relation to the encounters being made in applied theatre and in relation to the positionality of our work. All submissions will be reviewed by the editors and blind peer reviewed at least once prior to final acceptance.
- Small/quiet acts of solidarity in applied theatre and performance
- Challenges or ethical limitations within acts of solidarity
- Solidarity as reciprocal
- Absence (in solidarity)
- Solidarity as spectacle
- Embodiment and solidarity
- Solidarity and decolonialist practices
- ‘Making’ or ‘doing’ solidarity vs ‘being in’ solidarity
- Practices/limitations of allyship
- Nuanced practices of activist presence/co-presence
Please send your proposed abstract of 300-500 words and 100 words biography to Réka Polonyi (email@example.com) and Kirsten Sadeghi-Yekta (firstname.lastname@example.org) by April 5th, 2023. Full papers will be expected by September 1, 2023 and publication is estimated for summer 2024. Submissions will all go through one or more rounds of blind peer review.
Please feel free to get in touch if you have any questions.
Proposal for contributions: March 15, 2023 – DEADLINE EXTENDED TO APRIL 5TH
Final Publication of accepted submissions: Summer 2024
Chouliaraki, Lilie. 2013. The ironic spectator: Solidarity in the age of post-humanitarianism. John Wiley & Sons.
Chouliaraki, Lilie. 2011. “Improper distance: towards a critical account of solidarity as irony.” International journal of cultural studies 14(4): 363-381.
Gadamer, Hans-Georg. 2009. “Friendship and Solidarity.” Research in Phenomenology 39(1): 3–12.
Hadley, Bree. 2020. “Allyship in disability arts: roles, relationships, and practices.” Research in Drama Education: The Journal of Applied Theatre and Performance 25(2): 178-194.
Nash, Kate. 2008. “Global citizenship as show business: the cultural politics of Make Poverty History.” Media, Culture & Society 30(2): 167–181.
Parry, William .2010. Against the Wall: The Art of Resistance in Palestine. London: Pluto Press.
Siapira, Eugenia. 2019. “Refugee solidarity in Europe: Shifting the discourse.” European Journal of Cultural Studies 22(2): 245-266.
Taylor, Diane. 2020. Presente! The Politics of Presence. Durham: Duke University Press.
Thompson, James. 2015. “Towards an aesthetics of care.” Research in Drama Education: Journal of Applied Theatre and Performance 20(4): 430-441.
Vestergaard, Anne. 2008. “Humanitarian branding and the media: The case of Amnesty International.” Journal of language and politics 7(3): 471-493.
Walhof, Darren R. 2006. “Friendship, Otherness, and Gadamer’s Politics of Solidarity.” Political Theory (34)5: 569-593.
Walia, Harsha. 2012. “Moving beyond a politics of solidarity toward a practice of decolonization.” In .), Organize!: Building from the local for global justice, edited by Eric Shragge, Jill Hanley, and Aziz Choudry, 240–253. Los Angeles: PM Press.