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Performances in Social Science

The term performance encompasses a wide range of cultural events from various theatrical performances, performing arts or the performance of an oral text to a large number of rituals and eventually to any speech event. Emphasis has shifted from studying social institutions or texts to actors and their creative potentiality. Some performance theorists like Victor Turner and Richard Schechner take theatrical performances on stage and the theatrical potential of social life as their starting point others such as Baumann and Briggs apply the term performance in a linguistic sense to any speech event whether artful and elaborated or just everyday verbal interaction. According to latter approach language is not only seen in its referential or indexical function but any use of language is interpreted as social action in which things are done with words. For speech act theorists such as Austin the elocutionary force of an utterance is not simply a product of its referential content but depends on various conditions of the whole performance of the utterance such as the setting, the intentionality of the speaker, his status and authority and the conventions that are followed by the participants.

Both the theatrical and the linguistic approaches open up new perspectives in the interpretation of culture. Cultural performances such as rituals, ceremonies, carnival and theatre but also the performances in the linguistic sense such as speech events can be seen as interpretations of social life by the actors themselves. In a way culture is depicted within these performances. Each performance is highly structured event that enables the observer to get an encompassing view of it. A cultural performance is a stage that is space and time specified the sequence of events fixed, participants, performers and audience and specific roles assigned .The use of language is seen as a communicative process in which it is not just the text with its poetic or aesthetic qualities which is important the ethnography of speaking is also relevant for analyzing speech events.

The setting of a performance includes time and space as well as the course of events and the persons involved. Each cultural performance is set apart from day to day social life by time and space. Many rituals and theatre performances is set apart from day to day social life by time and space. Many rituals and theatre performances are on the occasion of seasonal festivals that are celebrated according to fixed calendar. Time is defined as extraordinary by the very fact that a ritual or theatre performance takes place in it.

The stage in theatrical performance or the temple in the case of ritual is easily recognized as distinct or demarcated space. The course of events of a performance is supposed to be fixed despite the variations caused by an individual performer. It can be remembered and the same time anticipated by the participants and audience. This applies to ritual, theatre and the performance of oral texts. Several persons like organizers, participants, performers and audience are involved in each performance .The success of performance depend on their adherence to the rules. After deciding to hold a performance the organizers have to proceed according to conventions.

The cultural performances attempt to communicate meaning and that they are of reflexive character. The cultural performances are not only said to communicate meaning but also to have the potential to change society and to be events where critique might be expressed or where different versions of culture could be negotiated. As Schieffelin has noted that the central issue of performativity whether in ritual performance, theatrical entertainment or the social articulation of ordinary human situations is the imaginative creation of a human world. Through the various performances life is interpreted, identity is created and individual crises explained and mastered.

The most important result of studying cultural performances is the insight that the textual dimension cannot be considered exclusively in the interpretation of performances. The text is often incomprehensible to the participants. According to Tambiah the efficacy and power of ritual lie in the textual, symbolic and cosmological representations that the performative character establishes. Meaning does not derive from the text not even from the text in context but from the text in performance.

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