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Planetary Performance Studies

Felipe Cervera

National University of Singapore


One of the paramount disciplinary developments that Fluid States, Performances of UnKnowing led to was the imperative to re-examine what “multiplicity” means in the contexts of performance studies, as well as within PSi. This becomes all the more pressing in light of this new journal, Global Performance Studies, or GPS. Multiplicity is one of the ways in which PSi thinks of performance studies and, as a consequence, an ambition of the projects that it launches in the form of conferences, symposiums and other scholarly activities. Correspondingly, multiplicity was one of the main frameworks of Fluid States. What is the kind of multiplicity that Fluid States sought to articulate, and how does it relate to the multiplicity that GPS might enable?

This article argues that for PSi to continue thinking of performance studies as a multiplicity — and therefore, for its disciplinary commitment to the field at-large to render that multiplicity effectively operative and critically productive — the narrative of origins in and of the field needs to be revised in the transit from Fluid States to GPS. That is, we should reconsider the narrative in which a single epicentre holds the historical authorship of the discipline. In order to make this point, the article first reviews a probable history of the idea of multiplicity in PSi using the start point of PSi #10 in Singapore 2004, indicating how the conversations there were paramount for the conceptualization of Fluid States. Thereon, the article recounts my own experience as a visiting correspondent (VC) for the Fluid States clusters in New Delhi, Manila and Melbourne between 2013 and 2015. More than observing a globalized, limitless field, my experience as a VC suggested the limits of a narrative of disciplinary expansion, signaling the gaps between the different local densities that were gathered at every site. Finally, the article argues that more than enabling a globality of performance studies, the transit from Fluid States to GPS might benefit from emphasising a planetary framework for performance studies. The article then goes on to suggest an outline of such a framework, including three ways to understand planetary performance studies: the terrestrial, the disciplinary, and the extraterrestrial. The article concludes by suggesting a way in which the histories of performance studies can be rewritten in planetary multiplicity.

One History of Multiplicity in PSi

The small letter “i” in PSi indexes the history of multiplicity in PSi. The history of that index is commonly traced back as far as the origins of the organization in New York University (NYU). During the early years of the organization, this “i” expressed the awareness of the limits in and of the politics within which the discipline was framed, given the precise socio-political circumstances of the US in the second half of the twentieth century.[2] In that sense, it was a self-reflexive “i” that indexed the “l­­ocalization” of a disciplinary formation according to the specific “coordinates” of a determined episteme. As such, the tendency towards thinking of performance studies as a multiplicity implied a negotiation between the awareness that “there is a world out there” and the limited capacity to address that world in and of itself. Perhaps the most visible symptom of this negotiation in the context of PSi is the impulse to project performance studies as a polyglot field. For example, in the booklet of the first conference organized in that “outside”, PSi #5 Here be Dragons — Mapping the Undiscovered Realms of Performance Studies: Boundaries, Hinterlands, and Beyond held in 1999 at Aberystwyth University, the description of the organization already included the wish to support multi-lingual scholarship (Gough and Roms 2), and the conference itself would later support multilingual presentations in Arabic, German, and Welsh.

Symptomatically, the “i” in PSi became the index for the vicissitudes of thinking performance studies as a “truer” international multiplicity when the annual conference was first held in Asia. PSi #10 Perform: State: Interrogate in 2004 has often been cited as a turning point in the history of the organization, not least because the conversations there galvanized the project of Contesting Performance and were a significant referent in The Drama Review’s (TDR’s) ‘Is Performance Studies Imperialist?’ series, but also because there was a gesture to re-appropriate the “i” and shift its meaning away from its US-centered semantics.

A less-cited event that nonetheless shaped the conversations in PSi #10 is the pre-conference gathering, ceremoniously called “The Asian Performance Studies Research Group”, held in Penang, Malaysia from 18 to 22 June 2003. Although I have had access to the video documentation of the pre-conference, I will remit to the report that Paul Rae published a year later, on the conference website and in the booklet, in his capacity as conference co-ordinator. Rae contextualizes the Research Group by explaining that its aims were “to get a clearer sense of performance research in the region, and to reflect meta-theoretically on the relationships that existed between this research and performance practice” (Rae 26). He then fleshes out some of the concepts, themes, caveats, and limitations that became central to the conversations in Penang. Of the topics that Rae lists, a central one — in fact the first one he enlists — is “multiplicity”, which, in his words, concerned “the fact that staging a PSi conference in Asia present[ed] the opportunity to imbue it with a multidimensionality that, in other contexts/places, might be lacking” (Rae 26). Multiplicity therefore should be understood and

identified as the ways in which performance is investigated and the outcomes communicated. It was noted that a “diversity of voices” was desirable, that the spirit of the conference should strive to be “dialogic” […] and that we should be circumspect about critical vocabularies that threatened to foreclose such dynamics, and which entail a certain kind of discursive “imperialism.” (Rae 27)

In articulating this in his report, Rae was also addressing the problem of the Euro-American prevalence in the production and dissemination of knowledge that had so far been operative in both the disciplinary formation of performance studies and in the institutional history of PSi. Thereon, he further notes other relevant points that surfaced during the conversations in Penang. Another central theme among them was to keep a critical perspective on PSi and the global processes of academic knowledge production: “There is an inherent internationalism in the field, not least in terms of its objects of study, that those seeking to entrench the discipline in Euro-America ignore at their peril” (Rae 26-8). Rae’s report of the conversations held at Penang in 2003 strongly hint at a sense of de-centring epistemic and critical orthodoxies by and large — not only the principles that had, thus far, governed the production of knowledge in performance studies, principles rooted in an Euro-American context and associated with international ambitions — but also those that could emerge in the Asian and Singaporean contexts.

A year later, PSi #10’s conference program included six main discussion sessions, of which two were dedicated to addressing the issue of globalization of performance studies at different levels. In one of those sessions, “Not I? Interrogating the international in PSi”, the discussion aimed to (i) “reflect meta-discursively […] on Performance Studies as a globalized field that is engaged with the theorization of local practices, and the possibilities or impossibility of activism in this field”, [(ii)] to discuss whether the “i” in PSi should be elevated to an “I”, paying attention that “the issue [was] not whether performance studies has or will be internationalized, which is clearly an inexorable development, but to flesh out the implications and ramifications of its globalization”, and lastly, [(iii)] to address the fact that PSi #10 was effectively diversifying the membership of the organization, thereby putting issues of power and geography at the forefront (Lee et al. 56).

More significantly, the program of PSi #10 also included an interest group, “Glocalizing Performance Research”, which ran throughout the event and was facilitated by Jon McKenzie (US), Heike Roms (UK), and C.J. Wee Wan-Ling (Singapore). The workings of this group can be appreciated as a paramount moment in the activities of PSi #10 in relation to its antecedents (Penang, directly); its parallels (the conference); and its consequences, which include an edited volume that derived from the working group’s proceedings. This volume, published in 2010 under the title Contesting Performance: Global Sites of Research, would after its publication eventually become the theoretical framework for PSi — and eventually, for Fluid States and GPS. In this sense, in the history of PSi, Penang is perhaps the earliest antecedent to the formation of the regional clusters that would emerge in the aftermath of PSi #15 and, indeed, to Fluid States.

The introduction that McKenzie, Roms, and Wee provide in Contesting Performance is a key referent for the ways in which the PSi community thinks about performance studies today (see, for example, the web homepage of PSi). The thesis of the collection can be summarized as such: Performance Studies has gone global. This means that there are scholars working with a performance-studies angle in at several locales. Even though the hegemony of the US, and by extension the UK, remains in place, the multiplication of sites for performance studies signals the necessity to articulate a de-centred framework, in order to be able to appreciate the ways in which these blossoming sites interact with each other, without necessarily interacting with the discipline’s epicentre. Moreover, even though part of the intent of these new frameworks implies being critical of financial globalization, the multiplication of sites for performance studies remains inexorably linked to globalizing processes. Performance studies therefore needs to continue being an openly activist (anti-) discipline, and must find a way to negotiate this apparent contradiction between its implications with global forces and its more rebel intentions. The authors suggest that this needs to happen in the nomenclature of the field, and suggest that in order to mark, as well as emphasize, the de-centring in and of the production of performance-oriented knowledge, we should refer to our activity as performance research, and not studies.

Ten years ago, the negotiation between the institutional need to maintain the US as the original site of performance studies, the critiques posed during PSi #10 in Singapore, and the proliferation of sites where scholars were using a performance-studies approach was in part successful because it seemed sufficient to gesture towards a de-centred multiplicity in the field. This multiplicity, in turn, was identified according to nations or regions. This prompted the need to articulate a more concrete international multiplicity for performance research. During PSi #14 at Copenhagen, Denmark, Peter Eckersall led a table that discussed the idea of organising regional meetings and research clusters. At the time, Eckersall was the chair of PSi’s international committee, and he was asked to develop this idea further into a proposal. In the proposal document, Eckersall specified that regional meetings and research clusters aimed to “create new contexts for internationalisation,” and that therefore should “be responsive to local issues of timing and approach” in order to be able to “facilitate flows of information and expand research networks between local, regional, and global spheres of operation” (Eckersall 1).

The first such cluster was launched in Rijeka, Croatia, in the aftermath of PSi #15 in Zagreb in 2009, and over the next three years a few more followed. At their outset, the politics of the regional clusters remained anchored in the concept of serving as “counter-forces,” resembling one of the central explanations that Contesting Performance offered for thinking of performance studies as a multiplicity. For example, in the description of the first cluster in Rijeka, we can detect this sense of a “de-centred” voice speaking back to the centre:

One of the distinctive challenges of the PSi#15 is to make allowances for voices heard from the regions which were largely outside of the horizon of the predominantly UK and US paradigm of performance studies and international association of the scholars and artists in the field – the PSi. Those voices – sometimes disturbing or even subversive – enhance initiatives coming from the specific region and challenge the well-tuned ways of doing and dealing with performance (studies and arts) within, as also across its borders (MISperformance 26).

Indeed, this framing of the first regional cluster resonates closely with the reflection that emerged in Singapore and that appears in the volume edited by McKenzie, Roms, and Wee. After Rijeka, other regional clusters were organized in Vercelli, Italy, in 2010; Athens, Greece in 2011; Santiago, Chile in 2012; and Montemor-o-Novo, Portugal, Berlin, Germany, and Auckland, New Zealand in 2013.Throughout these clusters, the impulse was similar to that expressed in Rijeka. However, this impulse gradually moved away from expressing a dynamic of force and counter-force, to one expressing the concerns of a multi-polar organization. For example, in Greece, the organizers curated a panel titled “PSr: Performance Studies regional”:

How can we start thinking about Performance Studies in relation to the region they appear? And more specifically, how can we start imagining performance studies within the particular historical and cultural landscape of Greece? Although Performance Studies is a field of research that started developing and centring itself around the Western world (predominantly in Anglo-Saxon countries, such as the United States and England), it has recently expanded in non-Western geographical and cultural areas and is, thus, being displaced by diverse and region-specific contexts (Argyropoulou et al, 55-6).

Similar rationales and intentions became explicit in the Portugal event, where the organizers expressed their impulse towards “challenging disciplinary boundaries in order to question how Performance Studies can be received in Portugal” (Generative Indirections 1).

Collectively, the regional research clusters, the Asian Performance Studies Research Group, and the interest group led by McKenzie, Roms, and Wee in Singapore in 2004, brought to mind the different histories and genealogies that informed both the understanding of performance as a practice, and the epistemic paradigm at each locale — independently (or not) of the formations in the US. In the aftermath of Fluid States, it is easy to appreciate the historic value of these contributions. However, it is also easy to identify the updates their argument will require today. In this sense, I am hesitant to accept the definitiveness with which performance research (and studies) is claimed to have gone global, based on what seems to be a slim multiplication of sites working their way, more or less, around the epicentre of the discipline. When this claim is placed in relation to GPS, the problem of a disciplinary hegemony may become exacerbated. We risk writing off the transition from Contesting Performance to Fluid States and then to GPS as a seamless and logical spatial evolution; we may fail to see that at this crucial point, it is the authority of the field that needs to be de-centred. If Contesting Performance met the mark by establishing an association between “de-centring” and “multiplicity” while simultaneously hanging on to the security granted by an original epicentre, GPS ought to do more than that. For performance studies (and research) to remain politically potent, we need to move away from reinforcing the US as the original site of performance studies; and we need to do so not least because the socio-political circumstances globally (including within the US) have changed, but more crucially because it is high time to let go of any imperialistic self-reflexivity. This is precisely what became evident during Fluid States.

Localising Limits: Ending a Narrative

In his report on the conversations in Penang in 2003, Rae identified a further recurrent concept: the idea of “local density.” Suggested by Rustom Bharucha at the meeting, this term describes instances where “highly detailed (and impassioned)” accounts are rendered on behalf of a particular locality, often to the detriment in understanding of those who do not participate in such contexts (Rae 28). Referring to moments where the Malaysian local densities dominated the conversations in Penang, Rae relates how “this was simultaneously an impediment to the generalizing thrust of the event, and an absolutely necessary illustration of the fine levels at which many of the most important questions are played out” (Rae 28).

An underlying factor in the articulation of an international multiplicity in and of performance studies is the placement of what McKenzie called the “Anglophone PS Empire”, as the largest sphere onto which the discipline is mapped (McKenzie 7). That is, performance studies “speaks” English — in spite of several efforts to drive the contrary, such as those of this journal, or the Hemispheric Institute of Performance and Politics’ initiative to speak and publish in English, Spanish, and Portuguese. In turn, the localization of performance studies within the borders of the English-speaking academe sets the utmost imperial undertone within the discipline. Today, that sphere of influence possessed by the English-speaking performance academe has a local density of its own. It is also a customary methodological strategy to use that English-speaking density as a contrast to “other,” “local densities,” negotiating such contrasts via the global/local model – Contesting Performance subtly does this, for example. Such a manoeuvre suggests the presence of an epistemic hierarchy, one possibly navigated by playing a game of market derivation or demand aggregation, such as that of “glocalization.” This is illustrative of what Portuguese philosopher Boaventura de Sousa has called a metonymic reason:

Metonymic reason is obsessed by the idea of totality in the form of order. There is no understanding or action without reference to a whole, the whole having absolute primacy over each one of its parts. There is therefore only one logic ruling the behavior of both the whole and each of its parts. There is thus homogeneity between the whole and its parts, the latter having no independent existence outside their relation to the whole. Possible variations in the movement of the parts do not affect the whole and are viewed as particularities. The most complete form of totality according to metonymic reason is dichotomy, because it combines symmetry and hierarchy most elegantly. The symmetry of parts is always a horizontal relation that conceals a vertical relation. (De Sousa 232)

In light of de Sousa’s insight, when we think of performance studies as a multiplicity contained within a global narrative — a narrative determined by the authority granted historically to a single local density — it begs the question (more than whether the discipline is imperialist) whether the discipline is metonymic.

Between 2013 and 2015, I visited three clusters of Fluid States. My original aim was to travel to four, but I was not successful in securing funding to travel to Panama, and therefore was only able to conduct two interviews (in Spanish and English) with the head of that cluster, Sebastián Calderón Bentin, which were published in the project’s LOG (see Cervera 2015a). I was however, successful in obtaining funding from my institution, the National University of Singapore, to visit Manila twice between 2013 and 2015; to attend the events in Delhi in February 2015; and to spend the month of October in Melbourne that same year.

During my visits, it was challenging to align my “coordinates” with local densities and sensitivities. In hindsight, I realize that in the midst of struggling to find my way, my “North” was often set to the purpose of identifying instances where the cluster was speaking back to, or about, the usual disciplinary epicentres. That is, my guiding objective was to tune into, and seek out, any political traces of the imperial critique that dominated the literature I had read, or was reading alongside travelling and visiting. In so doing, I often disregarded details that now, while writing for this first issue of GPS, become important in the project of re-evaluating the idea of multiplicity in the context of a planetary approach to performance studies.

In my notes on the activities in India, for example, a large section is dedicated to thinking through the initial moment of the event where the auditorium was unintentionally divided into two: the hosts on one side and the international visitors on the other. For me, that initial moment was at the time quite intriguing and became all the more symptomatic as it became evident that the methods and discourses to study and understand performance between the two were clearly different. For example, host scholars would often use a “linear” type of philosophical inquiry to pursue a point to its last consequence, while visiting scholars, many of them well-established performance academics, often drew links between several broader references in order to pivot a critique aimed at a specific issue. My observations are limited to my own experience as a graduate student halfway through my doctorate and, indeed, as a visiting correspondent. Yet, in hindsight, I realize how much of the multiplicity in and of the local escaped my radar, which was “calibrated” to equivocate things, tossing many of my initial observations under the comfortable rug of global/local dichotomy.

While I was only able to spend a few days in India, I was, however, fortunate to visit Manila twice in the span of two years. In August 2013, I attended the pre-Fluid States event, titled Pagtitipon — “gathering” in Tagalog. Two years later, in November 2015, I returned to Manila to attend the symposium that concluded a year-long calendar of roving activities across the Filipino archipelago, titled PSi #21 Philippines: Sa Tagilid na Yuta/ On Tilted Earth: Disaster, Performance, and Resilience in Archipelagic Spaces. With the bigger picture in mind (Fluid States, GPS, PSi and performance studies), I identify Manila as a cluster that has successfully mirrored the umbrella narrative of Fluid States. In so doing, it evidences the thinning-down of the thus-far valid argument of a multiplicity in and of performance studies, at the heart of which the US/UK formation occupies the prime spot. Not only did the Filipino activities last for nearly the same amount of time as the entire international event, but it was also a site where the idea of “fluid states” was perhaps more acutely investigated and explored. As evidenced by the initial conversations at Pagtitipon, the archipelagic nature of cultural relations in the Philippines already pushes the boundaries of multiplicity, being a “multiple” and oceanic nation. The numerous political, cultural, and social flows that shape and inform the identity of the Philippines as a country are constantly directed through the crevices of conflicts between religions, languages, and communities; and through the loci of tension of having a centralized government located in Manila (and more recently, by the alignment of the government in Manila to the Chinese hegemony in the region).

The act of participating in an international event surfaced the disciplinary boundaries between the study of performance in the Philippines and the “rest of the world.” This was already evident in the brief text in the booklet for Pagtitipon, which located Performance Studies Philippines (PSP) in relation to a ubiquitous, maybe even oxymoronic, international de-centred centre:

Performance Studies is very much a new idea in the Philippines, although performance art has been around for some time (with practitioners having notable achievements in both artistic praxis, scholarly work, and organizational reach and impact both locally and internationally) and Filipino scholars have long been engaged in performance research. What can be learned about ‘Philippine’ performance studies/PS in the Philippines looking at these practices? What are the possibilities for a disciplinary development in the academy and other sites of practice?

In the international academic circle Performance Studies is already a developed (though still dubbed as “emerging”) field of study and program offered in major universities around the world and the “turn to performance” is something that is known in many fields of the humanities and social sciences. It is also a field of cutting-edge interdisciplinary research and artistic work. And yet, in the Philippines, there is no program anywhere that announces itself as being on performance studies—not even one on “theatre studies”, except perhaps, partially, [University of the Philippines] Diliman’s “Art Studies” program. By default, performance has been investigated using methodologies of the traditional disciplines, every which way but through and as performance itself — that is, performance not only as object of study but as methodology, a certain way of doing and thinking about performance and other phenomenon. (Llana et al. 1-2)

The politics of locally “inaugurating” a new field that has already taken root “internationally” resonated strongly with me, being a graduate student trained in both the UK and in Singapore according to the canon of that ubiquitous de-centred centre of performance studies and research. For example, a moment that I remember very clearly was when, in the middle of a discussion about the possibilities of launching a joint PhD program in performance studies between several universities in the archipelago, a participant contributed to the conversation about the eventual curriculum of that program by saying, “We have been doing performance studies even before Schechner knew he was doing performance studies.” The verity of the statement is less important than what it signals. This is a reclamation of the authority that the canon of performance studies has granted to Schechner (see, for example, The Rise of Performance Studies: Rethinking Richard Schechner’s Broad Spectrum, 2011). As much as we cringe at yet another employment of Schechner’s figurehead as the scape-goat for our disciplinary maladies, this is how contesting performance can tend to look like.

As with my experience in India, much of the academic, political, and personal contestations were visible to me to a limited extent. And rightly so — as a visiting correspondent, I was only able to obtain some “snapshots” and gather some insights; based more on my own knowledge about the political history in and of the discipline, and less on the political history in and of the community that was being gathered. The issue I wish to highlight here is the asymmetry, or perhaps the incommensurability, between the kind of knowledge that supports performance studies as an international disciplinary formation and the kind of knowledge that, in this instance, supports the formation of PSP. In other words, the issue is the disciplinary divergences that were perceivable during Fluid States.

I experienced similar limits while visiting and working with Performing Mobilities, the cluster in Australia. Again, these were not only a consequence of the limits that come with being a visiting scholar, but also a consequence of the local densities that remain opaque to anyone who is not part of that context. In other words, the limits were two-sided: a dual border between my capacity to “read,” and the cluster’s “Australian-ness.” This border became increasingly porous the longer I stayed and worked there. I made good friends, learned some “Australian” contextual nuances, and became increasingly aware of my own mix of “Mexican” and
“Singaporean” ways of perceiving the world. Yet, even though the performance scholars, artists, and activists working in Australia are perhaps more visible in the international canon of the discipline than many others working in other Fluid States clusters, the local density in which they work is no less distinct from those I encountered in Delhi or Manila — or even the ones I have encountered in Mexico and Singapore.

In one of the Australian cluster’s activities, a group of artists were commissioned by Mick Douglas (RMIT) and James Oliver (VCA) to experience the main symposium and then respond creatively to it. In line with the overall topic of the cluster, the workshop was titled Mobile Creative Practice Public Pedagogy. The brief that participants received in advance described its mission, as follows:

This workshop aims to activate and review the Performing Mobilities program through the practice and perspective of participants. We wish to explore together how participants feel they learnt through their encounters with the program, and how this as a form of mobile public pedagogy is generative for performative creative practice. The workshop seeks to employ creative practice methodologies that artists (such as yourself) bring to it, as the primary means to reflect upon and generate responses to the Performing Mobilities program, and to learn through.

The workshop will enquire into your responses to the dramaturgy of Performing Mobilities, in particular through your practice in this para creative space and practice pedagogy experience. This is also locally situated in the context of global mobilities and indigeneity, the role of embodied mobile engagement in a city and across institutions, the affordance that movement (and stillness) offers collective modes of creative practice enquiry, and the critical relevance of this to current global and local conditions. (Douglas, personal communication)

As the director of the cluster, Douglas was always emphatic about the great potential that Fluid States offered for creative practice and research. In fact, the several performances he produced under the umbrella title, Circulations, will probably endure as one of the staple illustrations of Fluid States in time to come. It is therefore no coincidence that the post-mortem activity for the programme of Performing Mobilities was designed to be a series of creative responses. This is a choice that falls in line with the belief that performance studies, as a discipline, should acknowledge and encourage creative practice as a method; it also aligns with the institutional setting in Australia where creative practice may be recognized as legitimate academic research. This last point flags up an important difference in the ways in which performance studies is legitimized within different disciplinary, university, and national contexts, as creative practice will not be equally accepted as academic research at every institutional site where performance studies is practiced.

While some of the responses presented during the workshop were better-rounded performances and interventions than others, a common thread across the table was that as artists, most of the group felt somewhat dissociated from the academic orientation of a significant proportion of the activities. More potently, a Filipino performance artist that lives and works in Melbourne was particularly critical, and expressed the discomfort she experienced during the symposium as a result of what she appreciated as her encounter with an academic status quo. After her intervention, the conversation stalled; and while as a group we struggled to reach a conclusion that drove us towards a conversation on creative practice and pedagogy, in the end, the discomfort was too strong. Here the local density I encountered was expressed in the negative, because as much as I was more or less able to pick up the unspoken rules of engagement and the discomfort that pervaded the room, I simply did not have, as much as I tried, a vocabulary to address the situation in the same way as the Australian residents. I simply did not share enough disciplinary history with them to be able to contribute. Moreover, we may also interpret the experience of the Filipino artist as her own encounter with PSi’s local density in itself.

There is much more that I could share about my experience in and of Fluid States (and much of this are expressed in my contributions to the LOG; see Cervera 2015a, 2015b, 2015c, 2015d and 2015e). Doubtless, the experience was extremely enriching to my own doctoral training, not least because I had the opportunity to interact with different constellations of scholars and institutions; but perhaps more significantly, because I established meaningful intellectual linkages, made solid friendships, and met invaluable mentors. These relations mark the ways I perceive the community of PSi and the discipline at-large. Indeed, the nature of the project of Fluid States makes it easy to celebrate its impact and benevolence in enabling a multiplicity of new creative connections and intellectual sparks. By the same token, the vocabularies around which it was established — vessel, oceans, islands, LOG — also grant ample opportunity to inspect it from the usual standpoint of the imperial critique. However, as the brief summary of my experience as a visiting correspondent in Delhi, Manila, and Melbourne shows, Fluid States was more about the gaps that became apparent between different knowledges; and less about the global flows of knowledge.

In sum, I can describe my experience in Fluid States as one of localizing limits. More than simply mapping performance studies in its positive spaces, or even in the “more fluid and shifting oceanic grounds of the seas” (Fluid States homepage) as the curatorial line intended, Fluid States made sensible the gaps that are increasingly growing as new crops of artists and scholars are trained and work in the geographical multiplicity, one that was foreshadowed in scholarly examples like Contesting Performance. Yet the differences between the clusters cannot really be reduced to and packaged in a global/local dynamics. The points of rupture, where previously-assumed flows of knowledge do not occur — or do so under strained circumstances — indicate the negative spaces where performance studies, as a discipline, can and should let go of outdated axioms. As the future of the discipline dawns, the debate on “how to engage with such a multiplicity” in order to “make the situation productive for the further development of the field” (PSi homepage) is, as always, paramount. More than simply furthering the narrative justifying disciplinary expansion, I suggest that precisely because the next institutional step from Fluid States is GPS, PSi is in prime position to articulate a planetary approach to the discipline. Before suggesting the outline of this approach, I will first take some space to offer a brief review of planetary thought in the humanities. If you are familiar with these materials, feel free to move ahead to the next section.

Planetary Thought

Planetary thought emerges from post-colonial studies, largely as a critique to globalization. Two early examples are Paul Gilroy’s book, Between Camps: Race, Identity and Nationalism at the End of the Colour Line (2000) and Masao Miyoshi’s article, “Turn to the Planet: Literature, Diversity, and Totality” (2001). Both authors appeal for a kind of planetary thought able to deal with the increasing social, methodological, and disciplinary challenges of what, at the turn of the century, was already a pervasive globalization. While Gilroy’s book dedicates an entire section, “Planetary Humanism,” to advocate for a “heterological, post-anthropological, and cosmopolitan” framework (Gilroy 334), Miyoshi draws from his own experience as a literary critic in order to highlight the disciplinary challenges faced in trying to articulate a sense of totality, while also accounting for globalization and multi-culturalism. In a similar tone to Gilroy’s, Miyoshi argues that we must remember that the “global economy is not global at all, but an exclusionist economy”, and thus “we need a new organization, one that is truly global and inclusive of all […] for the first time in human history, one single commonality involves all those living on the planet”; so it follows that “literature and literary studies now have one basis and goal: to nurture our common bonds to the planet” (295).

Building on these initial impulses, planetary thought in the humanities perhaps appears more clearly in Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak’s Death of a Discipline (2003). There, like Gilroy and Miyoshi before her, Spivak pits “the planet” against “the globe”:

Globalization is the imposition of the same system of exchange everywhere. In the gridwork of electronic capital, we achieve that abstract ball covered in latitudes and longitudes, cut by virtual lines, once the equator and the tropics and so on, now drawn by the requirements of Geographical Information Systems. […] The globe is on our computers. No one lives there. It allows us to think that we can aim to control it. The planet is in the species of alterity, belonging to another system; and yet we inhabit it, on loan. It is not really amenable to a neat contrast with the globe. I cannot say “the planet, on the other hand.” When I invoke the planet, I think of the effort required to figure the (im)possibility of this underived intuition. (Spivak 72)

Thereon, she attempts to supplement the shortcomings of globalization and its all-knowing Theory and gaze with what seems to be a more “humble” planetary framework, which keeps in check any sense of hierarchical distinction between a pre-supposed subject (humanity, the West, etc.) and the rest of the planet. In other words, Spivak tries to figure out a way in which the exclusions of globalization, understood as any mono-polar exercise of power/knowledge, could be thwarted to give way to an understanding of our planetary condition as one that is intricately relational and which, although linked to an inescapable ecological unity, is at the same time determined by — and for — differences and specificities. Because of this, and echoing Miyoshi’s own ideas, Spivak calls for us to de-centre knowledge from a Euro-American gaze, by advocating for a “planetary strategy”, which takes “the languages of the Southern Hemisphere as active cultural media rather than as objects of cultural study” (9). Thus, Spivak argues, “[i]n our historical moment, we must try persistently to reverse and displace globalization into planetarity […] calling on teleopoiesis rather than istoria” (97).

In Planetary Modernisms: Provocations on Modernity Across Time (2015), Susan Stanford Friedman makes the case, once again, for privileging planetarity over globality. By her account, this is

because it bypasses the overdetermined associations of the other terms: transnational suggests the on-going tension between nation-states and globalized postnational political formations; global invokes the endlessly debated pros and cons of contemporary globalization. Planetary, on the other hand, echoes the spatial turn in cultural theory of the twenty-first century. It is cosmic and grounded at the same time […] Planetary also gestures at a world beyond the human, even beyond the Earth, by invoking the systems and networks of inner and outer space that are both patterned and random. Planetary suggests the Earth as a place of matter and climate, life and the passage of time, and an array of species of which the human is only one. [ . . .] Planetary opens up the possibility of thinking about nonhuman modernities or the interconnections of the human and nonhuman in rethinking modernity and modernism — new directions for others to follow. Planetary has an open-ended edge that transnational and global lack. (Friedman 7-8; emphasis in the original)

Friedman stresses that planetarity is an epistemology and not an ontology. By epistemology she means the “ways of knowing and embed[ding] the political questions of who is doing the knowing, for whom knowledge is produced, how knowledge is deployed, and who benefits from that deployment” (54). She then stresses that a planetary epistemology must be relational, therefore providing “a comparative framework that balances the commensurable — what different modernities share — with the incommensurable — how they are different” (56).

Another figure of planetary thought in the humanities is Christian Moraru who, in 2015, co-edited with Amy J. Elias a volume titled The Planetary Turn: Relationality and Geoaesthetics in the Twenty-First Century, and authored the book Reading for the Planet: Towards a Geomethodology. In the introduction to The Planetary Turn, titled “The Planetary Condition”, Elias and Moraru, like their “predecessors”, set off by positioning “the planet” as a critical framework alternative to “the globe”. However, they are also prompt to acknowledge both figures are bound to have a degree of complicity: “Thus, while flat-out dismissal or wholesale demonization of globalization processes in economy, technology, and culture remains misguided, the planetary perforce builds on the global, critiques it, and, to some degree, ‘completes’ it” (loc. 216). Following the thread already established by previous planetary thinkers, Elias and Moraru are able to identify that planetarity arises as “a reaction to the multiple and steadily widening inconsistency between what the world is becoming and how this change registers in prevalent epistemologies and cultural histories” (loc. 71-2). Therefore “the critical-theoretical model of planetarity attempts a move away from the totalizing paradigm of modern-age globalization — and thus a critique or critical ‘completion’ of globalism” (ibid). Althought they acknowledge that planetarity is “admittedly transitional, ‘fuzzy’, frustratingly amorphous at times [and] insufficiently systematic so far”, they also insist that “there has been a paradigmatic translation of world cultures into a planetary setup in which globalization’s homogenizing, one-becoming pulsion is challenged by relationality” (loc. 77-9).

The argument that planetarity is an intrinsically relational framework becomes crucial at this point, as it becomes a thread that unites the arguments of planetary thinkers quite clearly. Echoing Miyoshi, Spivak, and Friedman, Elias and Moraru submit the clearest available definition of “planet” and“planetarity” as critical vocabularies. They define “‘planet’ and ‘planetary’ as a noun and an attribute, signifying and qualifying, respectively, a multicentric and pluralizing, “actually existing” worldly structure of relatedness critically keyed to non-totalist, non-homogenizing, and antihegemonic operations typically and polemically subtended by an ecologic” (loc. 253-4).

From Fluid States to GPS: From the Global to the Planet

The preceding brief survey covers the titles and authors that have become what we might call a preliminary canon on planetary studies in the critical humanities. Surely, some titles will have escaped my recount. However, it is safe to say that across the table the arguments for a planetary framework in the humanities share three fundamental traits:

  1. A resistance to employ the critical vocabularies and semantics of globalization, on the account of their limited scope when dealing with the increasingly complex cultural, social, political, and ecological aspects of life on this planet in the XXI century.
  2. An advocacy for structuring planetarity as a comparative inquiry that benefits relational, circulatory, and co-creative histories, which in turn foreground relationality as the most visible planetary paradigm thus far; and
  3. An emphasis that this relationality should bring forth the materiality of the planet into critical consideration within the humanities.

In line with these articulations, my own definition of planetarity stems from a more straight-forward consideration of “the planet” as a matrix of multiple co-presence. For this, I rely on de Sousa’s defence of “copresence” as a cornerstone strategy against metonymic reason. Coming from a decolonial perspective, de Sousa considers “copresence” alongside the notion of “epistemic incompleteness”:

Herein lies the impulse for copresence and for incompleteness. Since no single type of knowledge can account for all possible interventions in the world, all knowledges are incomplete in different ways. Incompleteness cannot be eradicated because any complete description of varieties of knowledge would necessarily not include the type of knowledge responsible for the description. There is no knowledge that is not known by someone for some purpose. All forms of knowledge uphold practices and constitute subjects. All knowledges are testimonial since what they know of reality (their active dimension) is always reflected back in what they reveal about the subject of this knowledge (their subjective dimension). In a climate of ecology of knowledges, the quest for intersubjectivity is as important as it is complex. Since different knowledge practices take place on different spatial scales and according to different durations and rhythms, intersubjectivity entails also the disposition to know and to act on different scales (interscalarity) and under the articulation of different times and durations (intertemporality). (de Sousa 276)

In this light, and with the intellectual history of planetary thought in mind, we can think of the planet as a matrix for copresence in performance studies in at least three ways: (i) a terrestrial that is informed by eco-critical sensitivities; (ii) a disciplinary based on epistemic incompleteness that advocates for the treatment of different knowledges as co-present with each other; and (iii) an extraterrestrial perspective in which the planet is addressed in relation to its copresence with the universe.

Perhaps the first understanding of a planetary framework for performance studies and research, as a repercussion of Fluid States, can be best appreciated by the titles of subsequent conferences organized by PSi: PSi #22 Performance Climates in Melbourne, and PSi #23 Overflow in Hamburg. Indeed, in the inaugural keynote of PSi #22 in Melbourne, Bruno Latour claimed that “the Earth is not the globe” — a statement that certainly echoed previous planetary thinkers.

The emphasis on the oceanic metaphor in and of the title of Fluid States already drew attention to the possibilities of investigating the planet and its intersections with performance. Perhaps the clearest example of this is Mick Douglas’ Circulations series, presented at Rijeka at the pre-Fluid States Festival in late 2014; and later during 2015 at the clusters in Bahamas, Rarotonga, Japan, Melbourne, and Manila. The series was mainly structured around the intersection between the planetary cycles of water and the human body, as allowed by the interface of salt. Douglas describes salt as an interface between bodies and the planet:

Salt is a material in cyclical movement and transformation – through bodies of water, through the bodies of humans and living organisms, through land – that elicits awareness of the porosity of entities and raises questions of equilibrium and change. [ . . . ] Our attention is directed to the range of human negotiations with natural systems and resources — commonly containing and capitalizing — while circulations of salt continue to exceed control. (Douglas 1)

Douglas’ Circulations series was the only praxis that has transited through more than two clusters of Fluid States; it was therefore an involuntary vessel that nevertheless can be appreciated as an example of a circulatory performative inquiry. This inquiry has been able to dig into the implications of salt in the history of trade as much as to suggest a different understanding of circulatory research in performance: one that is concerned with understanding the human body as one element in the larger cyclical system of water and salt that keeps this planet with life on the most fundamental level. In that sense, Douglas’ inquiry locates itself within our atmosphere, and by the same token suggests the utter necessity to understand our planet as a locality that fully deserves our attention as such. On this level of understanding, I experienced the piece as an invitation to think about the human body as one of the actors in the cycles of planetary existence.

In light of the intellectual history of planetarity in the humanities, the second possible way to think about an eventual planetary framework for performance studies poses a valuable opportunity to think anew the meaning of disciplinary multiplicity — a task to which PSi has systematically pledged itself — and to experiment with the idea of a disciplinary copresence. Here, an update of some points claimed by McKenzie, Roms and Wee in Contesting Performance becomes necessary. An important nuance in the way they framed the multiplicity of performance studies is that they foreground a sense of epistemological dependence between the global and the local. That is, the concept of locality of performance research is only sensible within the terms of Western power and knowledge. This is evidenced by the following statements:

One of the aims of the volume was “to produce a better sense of the contours of performance research — and its stakes — by foregrounding its local contexts and trying to highlight “other” voices and bodies of inquiry. The “local” here refers not only to non-metropolitan locations, but also to sub-national or regional locations. To foreground the local, however, is not to argue that the local is more “real” or privileged than other contexts, but rather to emphasize the local as a distinct context within which the globalization of Western power and knowledge is mediated, resisted, or appropriated. (McKenzie et al. 3)

While performance research does emanate from an intellectual center in the Anglo-American West, and while the various culturalist agendas of that center have been globalized, such concerns are not always central shaping forces. Thus, the concerns of performance research scholars working around the world are not inevitably focused on disputing the global center’s hegemonic status. While this does not mean that this volume collectively escapes the West-Rest or center-periphery set of binary oppositions, it at the least does suggest that the goal may be less to eliminate these binaries altogether than to multiply and complicate them in order to reveal a more complex analytic field. (McKenzie et al. 11)

The two statements are subtly at odds with each other. If the goal is to “reveal a more complex analytic field” by “foregrounding the local,” yet “performance research does emanate from an intellectual center in the Anglo-American West,” then the contours for the field will persistently be revealed as a derivation from the power afforded by the pre-supposed centre. That is, the global will determine how the local is defined; it will determine its coordinates. However, my observations of Fluid States confirm that, while it is true that much of the knowledge produced and circulated internationally benefit one type of performance studies and research over others, the stakes at each locale are more complex than those within a pre-supposed global/local dynamic. The local densities that I encountered are less symptomatic of how the “globalization of Western power and knowledge is mediated, resisted, or appropriated,” and more indicative of complex disciplinary enmeshments that mediate, resist, and appropriate from a multiplicity of bodies of knowledge and their flows.

In this sense, a planetary framework for performance studies implies doing away with any sense of attributing a locale of performance research the benefit to determine how the disciplinary histories in other locales are foretold. In turn, this also implies doing away with a totalist and imperialist critique in the field, in order to reveal the nuances, both micro and macro, that shape the critical histories in which performance (translated or else) is embedded. In other words, this manoeuvre means the end of a performance studies narrative that perpetuates the discipline’s history of behaving expansively, instead bringing forth in its place a narrative of multiple origins.

A way in which this project might be initiated — and one that in fact has been ongoing since Penang in 2003 through the project of the regional clusters at the beginning of this decade and, of course, by Fluid States — is to assemble scholarship that addresses the history of performance studies less as a paradigm which expanded, and more as part of a multiplicity of historical and genealogical threads within which, of course, the usual canon of the field remains relevant. Ideally, this project will be designed to have a multiplicity of “coordinates” according to which performance is located, “coordinates” that will not be overwritten by a global/local dyad, but instead are enhanced by the work done by practitioners and scholars intervening within the local densities where performance studies gets mapped — be it in fluid oceans or solid nation-states. This argument is, of course, not new. It stands, however, that we need to acknowledge that performance studies has more circulatory histories than the single diffusionist account that has historically held the discipline together.[3]

At this point it is crucial to bear in mind the third way in which a planetary framework for performance studies could manifest: the extraterrestrial. Sure, PSi and GPS are catchy acronyms. But, who owns PSi’s GPS “satellites”? Like some of the accounts that suggest the origin of the “PSi” name was a lucky strike of chance that eventually became loaded with political and epistemic nuances (see Schechner 19), GPS may also represent a familiar tune that plays alongside the usual TDR, TRI, PR, TJ, CTR, PP, etc. But there is a double gesture within the name of this journal: as if it was indeed located in the limits of Earth’s stratosphere, the name places the journal’s gaze both inwards and outwards looking: global and orbital, at the same time. What “coordinates” do these “satellites” use in order to “locate” performance studies globally? Who determines those “coordinates”? Who gets trained to read them? How can we make this system the launching pad for new histories of performance studies?

There are two central disciplinary implications in thinking about performance from an orbital perspective. Firstly, any consideration of a global positioning system of performance opens the door for questions about the securitization of Low Earth Orbit (LEO) and outer space, and the permissibility, viability, and ethics of using satellite technology for the disciplining social and private life in any given direction or according to any paradigm. Secondly, in the more specific case of the academic discipline that has been institutionalized under the name of performance studies (and its associated names), an orbital perspective assumes a higher ground upon which to “locate” the study of performance, according to a set of “coordinates” that correspond to a single system of mapping. At any of these levels, what is at stake is who gets positioned, by whom, and to what end. The usual reflex would have it that “we have this covered” by arguing that GPS is necessarily multiple, and that Fluid States avails this multiplicity precisely because it articulated a concert of locales with distinct ways of defining and practicing performance studies.

Nevertheless, if the logical next step of Fluid States is indeed a “global positioning system” for performance studies, more should be done to place “local” production in relation to a re-assessment of multiplicity that implies sharing the discipline’s historical authority — it implies the end of a disciplinary narrative that does not hold fort anymore. This can be done in the transit from Fluid States to GPS. However, for this to happen, the position of this GPS should itself be critically addressed with relation to multiple knowledges. This is a matter of including work from scholars all over the world as much as of launching a critical perspective, from the point-of-view of performance studies, on the orbital disciplinary implications for performance — a perspective that undeniably has a planetary stake.

Lastly, as we come to the end of the second decade of the twenty-first century, outer space is increasingly becoming a site for new and multipolar political, military, and entrepreneurial activities. Contesting performance acquires an entirely new meaning when we realize that space-enabled and space-faring nations and corporations are already indexing their power and capability into the solar system. In this context, performance studies has the potential for a new planetary advocacy. The access to outer space is not yet a democratic endeavour. Here, PSi and GPS have much to offer, both in scholarly and artistic terms, by way of putting forward the ethic and aesthetic criticalities necessary to address the current momentum of outer space exploration.


My intent here is to ponder upon a new planetary framework for performance studies in light of the relationship that is established in this issue: from Fluid States to GPS and GPS about Fluid States. My view is that we need to “hack” PSi’s GPS and direct its “coordinates” towards an ethos of planetary copresence and epistemic incompleteness, moving away from holding the discipline together by a single epicentric history. I suggest that a way to do this is by collective authorship in and of the field. Parallel to my involvement in Fluid States, I have had the honour to be part of two research teams that work towards enabling the figure of a multiple authorship as a legitimate academic practice in performance studies. Of course, co-authorship is not a new practice in performance studies. However, these two teams are strongly invested, each in their own way, in rethinking performance studies from a collective point of view. One of these teams, After Performance Working Group published in October of 2016 a thought-piece in the journal Performance Research; the other, PSi’s Future Advisory Board (FAB), contributes to this issue. Both teams in turn have come up with distinct frameworks to rethink the figures of the author and the collective in the context of performance studies. For example, After Performance thinks and writes in terms of transauthorship, ensemble thinking and adjacency (see After Performance), while FAB thinks and writes in terms of friendship and viscosity (contribution to this issue).

As the only person that has the benefit of participating in these two vastly different ways of working as a collective, my impression is that there is in both of them a strong commitment to think the discipline anew. The argument for multiplicity, as we have seen, has a history in and of itself. As such, it also has a future. Potentially planetary, the transit from Fluid States to GPS ought to enable the senior and upcoming cohorts of performance scholars to write new histories of performance studies in multiplicity. Otherwise, the way we locate the future of performance studies will remain faithful to the political necessities of the past. Writing together is one possibility; another one might be holding a multi-site academic gathering; yet I am certain there are more possibilities — multiple, in fact.

Works Cited

After Performance Working Group. “After Performance, On Transauthorship.” Performance Research, vol. 21, no. 5, 2016, pp. 35-6. DOI:

Argyropoulou et al. Encounters in Synchronous Time. PSi Regional Research Cluster Portugal Greece, 2011., pp. 55-6. Accessed 5 January 2017.

Cervera, Felipe. “Interview with Sebastián Calderón Bentín.” Fluid States LOG, 2015a. Accessed 5 January 2017.

— -. “Imagining Galaxies of Performance Studies”. Fluid States LOG, 2015b’Imagining%20Galaxies%20of%20Performance%20Studies’%2C%20by%20Felipe%20Cervera%2C%20India%20Correspondent.pdf. Accessed on 5 January 2017.

— -. “Interview with Rustom Bharucha”. Fluid States LOG, 2015c. URL:,%20by%20Felipe%20Cervera,%20India%20Correspondent.pdf. Accessed on 5 January 2017.

— -. “Interview with Mick Douglas”. Fluid States LOG, 2015d. Accessed on 5 January 2017.

— -. “Report #1 ”. Fluid States LOG, 2015e. Accessed on 5 January 2017.

Chalmers, Jessica Peri. “Short History of the Little “i” in PSi.” Unpublished notes. Access granted by Heike Roms.

De Sousa Santos, Boaventura. Epistemologies from the South, Justice Against Epistemicide. Routledge, 2016.

Douglas, Mick. Circulation Notice. Manila, 2015.

Douglas, Mick. Email invite for the workshop Mobile Creative Practice Public Pedagogy. Private correspondence.

Duara, Prasenjit. The Crisis of Global Modernity: Asian Traditions and a Sustainable Future. National University of Singapore, 2014.

Eckersall, Peter. “Performance Studies international, Regional research clusters. Draft Proposal.” Unpublished PSi Board document. 2008.

Fluid States, Performances of UnKnowing. 2015, Accessed 5 January 2017.

Friedman, Susan Stanford. Planetary Modernisms: Provocations on Modernity Across Time. Columbia University Press, 2015.

Harding, James Martin and Cindy Rosenthal. The Rise of Performance Studies: Rethinking Richard Schechner’s Broad Spectrum. Palgrave Macmillan, 2011.

Generative Indirections, PSi Regional Research Cluster. Montemor-o-Novo, Portugal, 2013, Accessed 15 August 2016.

Gilroy, Paul. Between Camps: Race, Identity and Nationalism at the End of the Colour Line. Penguin Books, 2000.

Gough, Richard and Heike Roms. Conference Booklet for PSi #5 Here Be Dragons — Mapping the Undiscovered Realms of Performance Studies: Boundaries, Hinterlands, and Beyond. Aberystwyth Centre for Performance Research, 1999.

Latour, Bruno. “On Sensitivity: Arts, Science and Politicis in the New Climate Regime.” PSi #22 Performance Climates, 5 July 2016, The University of Melbourne, Australia.

Lee, Weng Choy et al. “Not I? Interrogating the international in PSi?” and “Glocalizing Performance Research”. PSi #10 Perform: State: Interrogate, Singapore 2004, 2004, p.56.

Llana, Jazmin et al. Handout for Pagtititpon. 2013.

Markovits, Claude et al. Society and Circulation: Mobile People and Itinerant Cultures in South Asia, 1750-1950. Anthem Press, 2006.

McKenzie, Jon. Perform Or Else: From Discipline to Performance. Routledge, 2001.

McKenzie, Jon. “Is Performance Studies Imperialist?” TDR: The Drama Review, vol. 50, no. 4 (T 192), 2006, p.5.

McKenzie Jon, Heike Roms and C.J.wee Wan-ling, eds. Contesting Performance, Global Sites of Performance Research. Palgrave Macmillan, 2010.

MISperformance – an inverted approach to doing Performance Studies. Zoom Festival, 2016,, p.26. Accessed 20 August 2016.

Miyoshi, Masao. “Turn to the Planet: Literature, Diversity, and Totality.” Comparative Literature, vol. 53, no. 4, Autumn 2001, pp. 283-297. JSTOR, doi: 10.2307/3593520.

Moraru, Christian. Reading for the Planet: Towards a Geomethodology. University of Michigan Press, 2015.

Moraru, Christian, and Amy J. Elias, editors. The Planetary Turn: Relationality and Geoaesthetics in the Twenty-First Century. Northwestern University Press, 2015.

Rae, Paul. “Report on the Asian Performance Studies Research Group.” PSi #10 Perform: State: Interrogate, 2004 Singapore, 2004, pp. 26-33.

Schechner, Richard. Performance Studies: An Introduction. 2nd ed, Routledge, 2002.

Spivak, Gayatri Chakravorty. Death of a Discipline. Columbia University Press, 2003.


[1] I would like to thank Maaike Bleeker, Marin Blažević, Bree Hadley, Paul Rae, Mick Douglas, Jazmin Llana, Rustom Bharucha, James Oliver, Amaara Rahem, Kate Riggs, Oliver Kontny, Theron Schmidt, and Graham Wolfe for their companionship throughout my travels around Fluid States, and for the feedback given in the development of this piece.

[2] It is worth mentioning that in the process of mapping the history of PSi I encountered different versions of when exactly did the first performance studies conference take place, with some accounts dating it in 1990 and others in 1994. The reviewer to this piece suggested I consulted Jessica Chalmers’ ‘Short History of the Little i in PSi’ in order to verify this important detail. Chalmers’ essay is more a collection of notes pieced together chronologically, with details about the conferences between 1990 and 2003. According to these notes, the first conference did happen in 1990 and was a student-run initiative. However, it is important to highlight that there are also diverging versions on who was the person that suggested the small “i” in the name of the organization. Chalmers cites Peggy Phelan claiming that “Jon McKenzie was the one who thought of this ‘solution’ to the debate we had about making larger claims then we could justify in those early days” (Chalmers 1). However, only two paragraphs down, Chalmers also includes a passage from McKenzie saying that he does not remember doing so. Moreover, the reviewer to this article has a different version, with Indian scholar Avanthi Meduri being the one who suggested the lower “i” in the organization’s name as a visual reminder of the impossibility to be “truly” international. The reviewer also kindly clarified that the inaugural “official” meeting of PSi was in 1998. An important detail also provided by the reviewer is that the community gathered in that and previous meetings was already multiple, both in scholarly interest and geographical background.

[3] I am drawing here on the work of Prasenjit Duara in The Crisis of Global Modernity: Asian Traditions and a Sustainable Future and Claude Markovits, Jacques Pouchepadass and Sanjay Subrahmanyam, editors of Society and Circulation: Mobile People and Itinerant Cultures in South Asia, 1750-1950. For Duara, “The historical profile of a community is criss-crossed and shaped — for good or bad — by numerous scales of interactions, with circulatory networks and forces [ . . . ] Events simultaneously disperse across a variety of human and non-human borders, triggering and creating new events and processes” (54-9). Nevertheless, he is also emphatic about the importance of distinguishing theories of diffusion from circulatory histories. “Theories of diffusion tend to emphasize a one-way relationship, typically from a center to a periphery (in terms of the idea or process being diffused) and tend to become involved with political contestation over origins. Circulatory histories emphasize both the necessary forms of adaptation and the recreation of the circulatory form at the points of reception. [ . . . ] There are varied, differentiated, and complex approaches towards the source” (82). In line with that argument, and working in the context of South Asia, Markovits, Pouchepadass, and Subrahmanyam suggest the idea of “circulatory regimes,” by which they mean “circulation in all its temporal and geographical specificity, linking different parts . . . to one another and . . . to the wider world,” and then go on to suggest that attention should also be given to the counter-circulatory forms and forces that police those circulatory regimes (3).