What’s Your Position?

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Brown, Kevin. “What’s Your Position?” Global Performance Studies, vol. 1, no. 2, 2018, https://doi.org/10.33303/gpsv1n2a2

Kevin Brown

University of Missouri

Now in its sophomore issue, GPS is “off of the ground,” so to speak, and getting its bearings. In getting to this point, those of us guiding the direction of the journal have had to navigate a host of potential pitfalls. As we set our course for the future, potential “cities of gold” await, but there are also spots where it is written “here, there be dragons.”

The GPS, or “Global Positioning Device” is an instrument of positionality. GPS has become a somewhat ubiquitous system, originally developed by the military, but now used globally in civilian technology in a variety of contexts: it is used in software and hardware with applications ranging from real time mapping on cellular telephones to apps for caring parents (an other authority figures) who want to answer that age-old question, “it’s the 21st century, do you know where your children (citizens) are?”

Despite (and in spite of) its ontological roots as technology born of authority, GPS is now a metaphor for a journal dedicated to providing a truly international, accessible publishing platform for performance studies scholars and artists. This troubled origin story parallels the origin story of performance studies as a discipline, at least in its potential for unintended colonial configurations. Born of anthropology, performance studies and its practitioners must always be cognizant that, at least when it comes to the “global,” care must be taken to avoid exploitation and ensure fair trade. The GPS, then, must be a metaphor of exploration for the sake of expanding cultural understanding, not of the adventures of the traveling conqueror. Yet, we must explore and travel. We must meet new people and open ourselves to their cultures and their ideas. The other option — staying home, and never having traveled at all — is not tenable either. It is only by traveling through the wilderness that we can leave our ethnocentrism and limited world views behind.

To ensure that the intention is positive, then, the first critical question must always be, “where am I?” Or, “what’s my position?” On the one hand, a position is a place — a context — a place where performance happens. A performance climate. On the other hand, a position is an idea. When we “take a stand,” in an academic sense, we stake out our position within the discourse of debate. All of this may depend, quite literally, on the position where we stand: our biases, our worldview, and the privileges that come with that position, must be part of the reckoning. In military parlance, the number one rule is to never reveal your position. With GPS, and critical studies at large, then, our question should be the reverse of this — we must reveal our own positions before we proceed. The revelation of our position makes us vulnerable. This is exactly why it is necessary to examine and reveal our positionality before we can begin to create more positive climates for performances of all kinds. It is only through this vulnerability that a healing of the colonial wounds might begin.

A position implies a perspective — a point of view. The fact of where one is limits what one can see and the horizons to which one can travel. Sometimes it is our own position that is the hardest to discern — since we are so close to it that sometimes we cannot see the forest through the trees or the valley on the other side of the mountain. But we must absolutely come to know our position before it is possible to travel to the next destination. This is a core critical question that can be asked of any performance, and the same is true for GPS.

GPS is a collection of hearts and minds, artists and scholars; those who comprise our editors, our board, our reviewers, and Performance Studies international (PSi) as a guiding organization, reflect the composition of the greater population of performance studies denizens. That is, although there are a growing number of scholars and artists from an emerging array of global positionalities, the majority of performance studies practitioners still hail from North America and Europe. As an example of why we must consider our position, consider the use of language in academics, and how the practice of language are encoded in the structural elements of our institutions. Regrettably, at the present moment, the majority of scholarship and performance art presented at performance studies conferences, and published in journals of the field, is written in English.

This provides a catch-22 style conundrum for the direction of our journal, and the direction of the field of performance studies at large. In a perfect world, unlimited resources would be available to us, providing us with an opportunity to publish work translated into a multitude of languages, coming from a wide spectrum of cultures. Such work requires an enormous amount of resources. There is a need to provide the services of translators. There is a need for more human capitol with skills in native languages: peer reviewers that are fluent in that language, fluent editors who can help move authors along the publication process, and copy editors who are capable of editing the smallest details in that language. It is our hope that, some time in the future, perhaps after enough new scholars from global destinations join our ranks, we might eventually be able to publish issues of the journal in languages other than English. For now, we have revealed our current position. It is our vulnerability.

This brings us to the second critical question, which must be: “where am I going?” Although the current position of GPS, and performance studies as a larger field is constrained by an ontological inescapability of its Euro-American roots, we have begun to take steps that we hope will broaden our horizons. A notable quality of a GPS system is that it is relational. That is, any point on a map is defined through a “triangulation.” This triangulation takes place through a “pinging” of satellites and/or cell tower transmissions that attempt to determine a location. In the case of GPS journal, and the field of performance studies, a triangulation must be attempted in order to move us forward.

We must avoid getting bogged down in grand narratives of progress and binarisms rooted in the Orientalist positions of “East” versus “West” (for, in reality, everywhere is east of everywhere, and everywhere is west of everywhere as well — if you only go far enough around the globe). These are constructions and artificial borderlands. Instead, we should strive to expand our perspectives through a series of triangulations. That is, set a course for new destinations based on first reaching out to those points of triangulation that are the closest to us, then expand the limits of our figurative reach by subsequent triangulation from those expanded points. In practical terms, this means reaching out to scholars and artists currently at the periphery of the field, providing a platform for their publication. In turn, those new points at the circumference of our map will provide us with new positions of departure. In practice, this means reaching out to artists and scholars at the edge of our reach, and then bring them closer to us through triangulation. This is what PSi as an organization has been attempting to do over the span of the last several years — with our globally distributed “Fluid States” conference as well as conferences in China, Australia, and, next year, South Korea. In each of these iterations, we have welcomed a host of new performance studies scholars from a wide variety of cultures into the field. The journal GPS, as its publishing arm of PSi, hope to continue this emphasis on the “global” in “Global Performance Studies.” The more diversity the better.

It is within this spirit of exploration — points of departure and points of return — that the current issue of GPS exists. In this issue you will enjoy reading about scholarship and art that comes from a wide variety of positionalities, or climates. From animal rituals at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine to dance-dreams about issues dear to Indigenous people in the Kimberley. From time-based art in the glaciers of Finland to urban gardening in Melbourne. From eco-dramas in the mountains of the Philippines to botanical processions in the streets of Peru. From globally dispersed performances that happen online to performance studies classes in the future with dolphins. We have it all. It is our hope that these pieces will inspire you to take note of your own position — and plan your travels to new ones.

Thank you to everyone who made this issue possible. Thank you to Eddie Paterson for being the Guest Editor of this amazing issue, and all of the hard work that entails. Thank you to my assistants on the journal, Natalie McCabe Tartiere and Al Dabiri. Thank you to my department chair and the University of Missouri for providing support. Thank you to the past, present, and future members of FAB. Thank you to the Board of Performance Studies international. Thank you to Maaike Bleeker for conceiving of GPS and helping us launch the journal at PSi this summer. Thank you to Yu Homma for your help with the website. Thank you to all of the authors and reviewers who helped out with this issue. We couldn’t have done it without you.