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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Performing democracy : artistic engagements of identity/difference Beausoleil, Emily Jane


With growing acknowledgment within critical democratic theory that formal inclusion is not enough to guarantee real participation in democratic practice, particularly in the context of deep cultural diversity, this dissertation examines the possibilities, challenges, and limitations of various modes of communication when they are used to engage marginalized difference. It takes as its starting point the institutional and individual demand within democracies to not only make space for diverse ways of life, or simply ‘contain enough difference’ – as if this were possible – but to remain attentive to the perpetual remainder and responsive to the changes implied by such differences. This, I argue, defines a democratic ethos: a care for difference and the receptive generosity such care requires. With democratic engagement defined in these terms, I first analyze and critique the ways declarative modes of communication conventionally used in democratic engagement influence and limit both how identity/difference can be communicated, and the forms of civic engagement that emerge as a result. Second, I investigate alternatives to declarative language, specifically the evocative forms of communication used within the performing arts. Using three case studies from South Africa and Canada in which dance and theatre were used to represent marginalized positions regarding race, gender, homelessness, and mental health, my research isolates key aesthetic resources for fostering greater inclusion of marginalized identity/difference. In the process, this research reveals and analyzes effective and as-yet largely overlooked forms of democratic engagement, and brings new insights into how identity and difference can be communicated and coalitions may be formed beyond the static forms of identity politics present in certain kinds of political thought and practice. Ultimately, this project is an interdisciplinary intervention in a disciplinary discourse regarding what counts as available to our political thinking, to develop the means to broaden political inclusion as well as the tools with which to better represent and engage social difference with the attentiveness a democratic ethos demands. In short, this dissertation asks the question, can the performative arts facilitate engagement across difference in ways that a democratic ethos demands?

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