Theatre and Performance Research Association (TaPRA) and the Standing Conference of University Drama Departments (SCUDD) Joint postgraduate symposium

Activity: Organising a conference or workshopResearch


Dissonance implies conflict or discord, whether that be cognitive, or cultural, or perhaps, musical. According to Leon Festinger’s theory of cognitive dissonance (1957), people are psychologically motivated to engage in behaviour orientated towards reduction of disharmony, in preference of an internal consistency. In practice, this theory suggests that when confronted with something that challenges our perception of ourselves, or our way of behaving in the world, we instinctively try to resolve the feeling of dissonance. Ziva Kunda (1990) developed this concept further, observing how motivation affects reasoning, resulting in a rationalization, an altering of our perception of the factors involved, to justify behaviour and confirm bias. The existence of the dissonant problem, thus becomes obscured. Yet, Chantal Mouffe’s agonistic model of democracy highlights that unresolvable, incommensurable conflict is both natural and necessary (2013). Rather than collude in a fallacy of consensus she argues in favour of embracing a more pluralistic approach that acknowledges and allows for difference, replete with its disagreements and antagonisms.

In the contemporary context of performance research, dissention and antagonism is palpably evident. Socio-politically, the rise of populist movements worldwide, the impact of ten years of austerity measures in the UK, and the continued experiences of intersectional inequalities discriminating difference, including race, gender, sexuality and disability, contradict neoliberal assumptions of social progress. Within academia, there is renewed debate around issues relating to access, value and modes of research. In particular, universities have been challenged to decolonise and de-canonise curriculums that have obscured non-western contributions to knowledge (Bhambra, Gebrial and Nisanciaglu, 2018). Yet, the work of diversity within institutions is perhaps conflated with reactions towards complaint and becomes particularly difficult when, as Sarah Ahmed notes, ‘to locate a problem is to become the location of a problem’ (2017). More broadly, the act of research, and also the process of encountering performance, might be considered as an openness to a chance encounter that might well contradict or, at least unsettle, pre-conceived ideas of what we think we know. Marissa Fragkou suggests that, in theatrical performance, staging dissonance might be used as an ethico-political tool to ask ‘difficult ethical questions’ about issues of social justice (2018). The theme of this symposium, therefore, invites discussion of the ways in which performance practice and/or performance research might engage with dissonance.
Period31 Mar 2013
Event typeConference
LocationOxford, United Kingdom
Degree of RecognitionInternational