January 2021

The Performance of Politics

Listed in: English, as ENGL-392

Moodle site: Course (Guest Accessible)


Christopher A. Grobe (Section 01J)


When someone says that a politician is being “theatrical” or that a protestor is following a “script,” it is rarely meant as a compliment‒but why? The implication is that true politics is never theatrical, never scripted, never performed, never entangled with spectacle. Put so baldly, this claim is pretty hard to believe. If, instead, we take for granted that all politics is performed, we are left with several unanswered questions. What would an eye trained on performance (theater, dance, film, comedy, spoken word, etc.) see in our politics that someone else would not? Are there distinct performance traditions in politics, as there are in the performing arts? How do activists and office-holders enter these traditions, learn their ways, and apply them in everyday settings? How are citizens expected (or trained) to engage with this performance of politics‒either as spectators or co-performers? What are the key genres of political performance, and what should every citizen know about them? This class will teach you to see these as researchable questions‒and as part of an ongoing scholarly conversation in fields ranging from performance studies, art history, and media studies to sociology, anthropology, political theory, and history. Through reading and discussion, students will learn to think in interdisciplinary terms about politics, making connections across fields and methodologies. They will also study representations of political action and debate in film, television, and theater in order to uncover whatever lessons performing artists can teach us about contemporary political life.

This year, the course will be offered as an intensive four-week course in January. Our goal will be to apply these ideas to recent events (i.e., the 2020 election) and ongoing spectacles (e.g., the presidential inauguration on January 20th). We will do so first in small-group discussions, familiarizing ourselves with relevant theories and bodies of knowledge. Then, we will collaborate on creating a website (or other medium TBD) conveying that knowledge to others.

Limited to 30 students. January. Professor Grobe.


Attention to Issues of Class, Attention to Issues of Gender and Sexuality, Attention to Issues of Race, Attention to Issues of Social Justice, Attention to Research, Attention to Speaking, Attention to Writing, Online Only


2022-23: Not offered
Other years: Offered in January 2021, January 2022, Spring 2022