Sruti Bala, University of Amsterdam, Netherlands
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This article attempts to map the concept of performance, in terms of its genealogy and the diversity of its application. Such a mapping is an unavoidably reductive step, since the productive force of the concept partly relies on the difficulty of pinning it down to a precise typology or set of definitions. The act of mapping out the concept can itself be interpreted as a kind of performance, as has been argued by Richard Schechner (Performance Studies, 40-42), it is not a neutral or interest-free undertaking, and however persuasive the mapping may be, it may not necessarily simplify the application of the concept, nor resolve the disputes around it. As a “keyword” in the sense of Raymond Williams, performance is an operative concept, “whose meanings are inextricably bound up with the problems [they are] being used to discuss” (Keywords, 13). The concept is not merely descriptive, but programmatic, in that the choice and justification of the uses of the term lead to and imply specific effects. German theatre scholar Erika Fischer-Lichte describes the concept in terms of the range of its semantic shades, ‘Begriffsabschattungen’ (Kulturen des Performativen, 9), arguing that these shades need to be seen in relation to each other in order to trace the histories and contexts of the concepts of performance and the performative. Fischer-Lichte derives the semantic shades of the performative with reference to different disciplinary influences and deployments of the term, such as anthropology, linguistics, language philosophy, technology, economics and aesthetics. A typology and historicisation of the concept is a necessary though not entirely sufficient step in understanding its usage. Even if one makes sense of each of the shades of the term, one does not know how to make sense of the entire range of these shades.