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The Anthropology of Performance: A Reader

February 2013, ©2013, Wiley-Blackwell
The Anthropology of Performance: A Reader (EHEP002829) cover image


The Anthropology of Performance is an invaluable guide to this exciting and growing area.  This cutting-edge volume on the major advancements in performance studies presents the theories, methods, and practices of performance in cultures around the globe. Leading anthropologists describe the range of human expression through performance and explore its role in constructing identity and community, as well as broader processes such as globalization and transnationalism.

  • Introduces new and advanced students to the task of studying and interpreting complex social, cultural, and political events from a performance perspective
  • Presents performance as a convergent field of inquiry that bridges the humanities and social sciences, with a distinctive cross-cultural perspective in anthropology
  • Demonstrates the range of human expression and meaning through performance in related fields of religious & ritual studies, folkloristics, theatre, language arts, and art & dance
  • Explores the role of performance in constructing identity, community, and the broader processes of globalization and transnationalism
  • Includes fascinating global case studies on a diverse range of phenomena
  • Contributions from leading scholars examine verbal genres, ritual and drama, public spectacle, tourism, and the performances embedded in everyday selves, communities and nations
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Table of Contents

Acknowledgments to Sources vii

The Anthropology of Performance: An Introduction 1
Frank J. Korom

Part I Performance in Prehistory and Antiquity 9

1 Singing the Rug: Patterned Textiles and the Origins of Indo-European Metrical Poetry 11
Anthony Tuck

2 Performance and Written Literature in Classical Greece: Envisaging Performance from Written Literature and Comparative Contexts 26
Rosalind Thomas

Part II Verbal Genres of Performance 37

3 Playing the Dozens 39
Roger D. Abrahams

4 The La Have Island General Store: Sociability and Verbal Art in a Nova Scotia Community 49
Richard Bauman

5 Proverbs and the Ethnography of Speaking Folklore 61
E. Ojo Arewa and Alan Dundes

6 Gbaya Riddles in Changing Times 73
Philip A. Noss

7 Shadows of Song: Exploring Research and Performance Strategies in Yolngu Women’s Crying-Songs 80
Fiona Magowan

Part III Ritual, Drama, and Public Spectacle 95

8 Prayer as Person: The Performative Force in Navajo Prayer Acts 97
Sam D. Gill

9 Performance and the Cultural Construction of Reality 107
Edward L. Schieffelin

10 “He Should Have Worn a Sari”: A “Failed” Performance of a Central Indian Oral Epic 124
Joyce Burkhalter Flueckiger

11 Representing History: Performing the Columbian Exposition 133
Rosemarie K. Bank

12 The Palio of Siena: Performance and Process 150
Alice Pomponio Logan

Part IV Performance and Politics in the Making of Communities 165

13 Poetry and Politics in a Transylvanian Village 167
Gail Kligman

14 The Matter of Talk: Political Performances in Bhatgaon 174
Donald Brenneis

15 Celebrating Cricket: The Symbolic Construction of Caribbean Politics 183
Frank E. Manning

16 Performing the Nation: China’s Children as Little Red Pioneers 199
T.E. Woronov

Part V Tourist Performances and the Global Ecumene 215

17 The Promise of Sonic Translation: Performing the Festive Sacred in Morocco 217
Deborah A. Kapchan

18 Ethnic Tourism in Hokkaidoˆ and the Shaping of Ainu Identity 234
Lisa Hiwasaki

19 What They Came With: Carnival and the Persistence of African Performance Aesthetics in the Diaspora 250
Esiaba Irobi

20 Global Breakdancing and the Intercultural Body 260
Halifu Osumare

Further Readings 273

Index 287

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Author Information

Frank J. Korom is Professor of Religion and Anthropology at Boston University, where he teaches courses on verbal art, anthropology of religion, and cultures of South Asia. He has conducted extensive fieldwork in India, Sri Lanka, Trinidad, amongst other places. His interests range from ritual and performance studies to visual and material culture. His extensive publications include Hosay Trinidad: Muharram Performances in an Indo-Caribbean Diaspora (2003) and Village of Painters: Narrative Scrolls from West Bengal (2006).

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“This volume is a comprehensive and well-structured compilation of previously published essays, articulating how anthropology has explored diverse instances of performance . . This book will be of great use to graduate students looking to specialize in the field, or faculty members who wish to deepen their understanding of established concepts and perhaps recast their own work.”  (Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute, 1 June 2015)


“The concept of performance burst onto the stage of anthropology through a door that the ethnography of speaking opened. Ever since, its meaning expanded, its implications deepened, and its presence in anthropology and folklore enabled insights in culture and creativity. Frank Korom’s selection represents a broad scholarly range, demonstrating its value in the analysis of historical as well as modern, oral as well as literate cultures, making us realize, all of a sudden, that it is indispensable.”
- Dan Ben-Amos, University of Pennsylvania

“The historical, regional, and ethnographic scope of this volume is breath-taking. By approaching their topic through speech, disguise, body expression, or material articulation, contributors invite a wide readership across all kinds of fields to engage with a timely topic in new, refreshing and penetrating ways. Frank Korom has edited a landmark publication that will inspire experts and interested laypersons for years to come.”
- Andre Gingrich, Austrian Academy of Sciences

“People perform who they are in the world, or who they would like to be. Humanity bursts forth from these marvelous studies as far-flung souls sing, argue, and dance their truths.”
- Allen F. Roberts, University of California, Los Angeles

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Purchase Options
The Anthropology of Performance: A Reader
ISBN : 978-1-118-49309-0
304 pages
January 2013
$44.99   BUY

The Anthropology of Performance: A Reader
ISBN : 978-1-118-32399-1
304 pages
February 2013
$55.95   BUY

The Anthropology of Performance: A Reader
ISBN : 978-1-118-32398-4
304 pages
February 2013
$110.95   BUY

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