University of Melbourne
Method Assemblage and the Missing Methodologies of Theatre and Performance Studies
Theatre and Performance Studies (TaPS) is a vibrant, varied and highly self-reflexive discipline whose history, scope, and theoretical underpinnings have received extensive consideration. However, while what is researched and why are widely understood, much less critical attention has been paid to how research in this broad field is or could be done. Indeed, we might go so far as to say that TaPS lacks a defined set of research methods, a rationale for their selection, and agreement on how to interpret the resulting documentation, information or data even though there is broad recognition about topics of importance. This is not to say methods are absent from the discipline. If anything, theatre and performance research is conducted using a bewildering array of research methods with appeals made – whether tacitly or explicitly – to a correspondingly wide-ranging set of justifications.
In response, I propose ‘method assemblage’ as a means of exploring how TaPS might be done – and perhaps done better. In After Method (2004), sociologist John Law describes as ‘method assemblage’ the way diverse, ramified materials are gathered and configured in such a way as performatively to produce realities. As such, ‘method assemblage’ is not, in the first instance, a research project, so much as the activities conventionally researched. What the concept also points to, however, is the extent to which research processes are themselves extensions of the activities being researched: there is no point at which one definitively leaves off, and the other begins. Applying this idea to some common approaches in our discipline, I argue that, perhaps by dint of our disciplinary investment in the ‘acts of gathering’ that performances are (and whose importance is recognised in the conference theme), we have failed to pay sufficient attention to the acts of gathering that we, as scholars, do. I then go on to explain how we might understand methodological continuities between both sets of processes, as a mechanism for stabilising some of the more inchoate aspects of our discipline.
Paul Rae (firstname.lastname@example.org) is Associate Professor in Theatre Studies, and Head of English and Theatre Studies at the University of Melbourne, Australia. He is author of Theatre & Human Rights (2009) and Real Theatre: Essays in Experience (2019), and from 2015-18 was Senior Editor of the journal Theatre Research International. He has published widely on contemporary theatre and performance, with a focus on the Asia-Pacific region. An award-winning theatre director and playwright, Paul is currently working on two books: Performing Islands, and Mousetraps: Adventures in Theatrical Capture.