Personal narratives and performance pedagogy

Performance ethnography has been practiced and discussed by scholars who use a variety of ethnographic approaches to research, spanning ethnography, critical ethnography, and autoethnography (Denzin, 2018; Madison, 2005, 2008; Spry, 2016). In performance ethnographies, data from research studies are transformed into performances.

Joni Jones (2002) outlines 6 principles underlying her approach to this work. These include: (1) the performance centers around an idea or question (p. 8); (2) collaboration with the community ensures that researchers remain accountable to participants involved in a study (p. 8); (3) ethnographers situate themselves in relation to their studies (p. 9); (4) varied and even contradictory perspectives are presented (p. 9); (5) performances involve audiences; and (6) researchers engage with the ethical challenges relating to their work. These principles are evident in Julie-Ann Scott’s (2018) book, Embodied performance as applied research, art and pedagogy. This book combines autoethnography and performance pedagogy to explore dis/ability. She describes her work as a blend of social science the personal story-telling.

Scott-Pollock, who is a professor of Performance Studies at the University of North Carolina, Wilmington explores personal narratives of embodiment. The book opens with a note to potential readers, whom Scott identifies as including experienced and novice researchers, graduate students and new PhDs, and audiences outside the university community. The book is organized in 11 chapters, along with discussion questions and activities that could be used in teaching. Scott-Pollock draws readers in with stories that describe her embodied experience of living with a disability, and her encounters with students that she works with as she teaches qualitative research and performance studies. The question of “can rigorous research be art for the masses?” is answered not via an essay, but dialogues formulated as “student/teacher debriefs”. The first debrief is positioned after the presentation of a conference panel and involves dialogue with a skeptical audience member; the second is situated after a tense panel at a national conference film festival. For readers unfamiliar with performance pedagogy, these dialogues are intriguing introductions to relevant debates. Scott-Pollock also addresses how performance pedagogy can be incorporated into a service-learning course. Here, she discusses a group she facilitates, The Hawk Tale Players, in which students conduct interviews with community members, create original monologues, and perform these in the community. Throughout the book, Scott-Pollock returns repeatedly to the idea of “empathy” – and how performance pedagogy and personal narratives can inspire empathy and understanding among performers and audience members.

Throughout the book, readers are invited to contemplate extended dialogues concerning the characteristics of performance pedagogy along with vivid scenes that occurred in the making of Scott’s documentaries. In one of the documentaries Cripping: A Performance Ethnography of Physical Disability and Identity, actors bring scripts generated from Scott-Pollock’s research on disabilities to life. Citing Dwight Conquergood, Scott-Pollock alerts readers to some of the dangers of doing this form of work.  Links to videos from the documentary can also be located on Scott-Pollock’s website.

It is clear from Scott-Pollock’s account that combining performance ethnography with personal storytelling is no easy task. Yet, Scott-Pollock’s  vivid, vulnerable and engaging accounts of her practices, encounters with students and critics provide compelling support for the value of this work in higher education and the community.

If you would like to learn more about Julie-Ann Scott-Pollock’s work, see her talk about it in a recent webinar for the Institute for Qualitative Methodology:

Performance, Documentary, and Embodied Qualitative Inquiry


Denzin, N. K. (Ed.) (2018). Performance autoethnography: Critical pedagogy and the politics of culture (2nd ed.). London & New York: Routledge.

Jones, J.L. (2002). Performance Ethnography: The Role of Embodiment in Cultural Authenticity. Theatre Topics 12(1), 1-15. doi:10.1353/tt.2002.0004.

Madison, D. S. (2005). Critical ethnography: Method, ethics, and performance. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

Madison, D. S. (2008). Narrative poetics and performative interventions. In N. K. Denzin, Y. S. Lincoln, & L. T. Smith (Eds.), Handbook of critical and indigenous methodologies (pp. 391-405). Los Angeles: Sage.

Scott, J.-A. (2018). Embodied performance as applied research, art and pedagogy. Cham, Switzerland: Palgrave Macmillan.

Spry, T. (2016). Autoethnography and the other: Unsettling power through utopian performatives. New York and London: Routledge.

Kathy Roulston

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