I'm not an expert of performance theory, but I do understand its significance specially in myth and folklore, religion and ritual, and aesthetics and technology. Humans are not only talkers but actors or doers as well. performance theory or performativity does not aim to value text or speech more than body or action. They are inseparable.
I have observed in indigenous communities how words are meaningless when they are treated only as texts. We have a lot of idioms in our language regarding the futility of words, speech, and utterances.
"hanggang salita" (only in talking)
"puro salita" (all talk)
"salita nang salita" (talk and talk)
"magaling sa salita" (good in talking)
These idiomatic expressions are used when someone is only good in talking but not in doing. Filipinos already practiced performativity even before the English language reached our land and taught our forefathers the textual power of the Bible.
I grew up in a culture where "yes" and "no" are expressed by squinting eyes, creasing brows, and nodding heads. I knew my mother would not allow me to sleep over at my friend's house by just looking at her face. Simply, in our culture we embody texts, we perform speech, and we act out words. If you ask a Filipino walking in the streets of Manila a direction, you wont' hear "east of this" or "north of that". You will see his hands, his arms, and his pouted lips giving directions.
Speech or utterance is just one aspect of the speech-action paradigm in performativity. Performative or performance theory is so much more. Like some of you here, I, too, was skeptical about its significance in the field of sociocultural studies/analyses. I first thought it only belonged on the stage or in the theater, but I did not give up.
I had been looking for terms or concepts in anthropology that I could use to call things and thoughts kept or hidden and displayed or exposed intentionally or otherwise in or by a culture, and I found none. Pathos and ethos are too broad and abstract. After reading about "archive" and "repertoire" as cultural memories, I found what I had been looking.
One of the things that is keeping me away from anthropology is the cultist intellectualizing of those anthropologists who are more of theoretical trumpeters than social or cultural analysts. There's nothing wrong in invoking Turner's name even in taking a dump, The questions are:
Can you move on from Turner and explore what he had not explored?
Can you make your own theory after being influenced by Turner?
Can you do what he had done; make not copy theories?
It seems to me imitation is what we are mostly doing in anthropology. Just check some of the thesis titles shelved in university libraries. They are about proving or disproving existing theories among groups or in cultures. Is this the reason why anthropology has not come out with a sensible or, lets say, "explosive" theory lately? Are we scared or paranoid to theorize? Are we suppose to study theories or people and their culture? Are we anthropologists because we trumpet or parrot what the dead anthropologists said or wrote decades ago?
Because of my hesitation to join in the anthropological cult of intellectual mimicry, I went back to revisit performance theory, which, to me, is very inclusive in their theoretical approach and appropriation of other methodologies. I was amazed how performance theorists come up with new theories often. Their works sound more anthropological and ethnographic than some papers of anthropologists who still try to forward postmodernism as the savior of anthropology but fail. They embrace anthropological tools and methodologies. For a humanistic field like performance studies to do that, it should open our eyes in anthropology.
Why are we encroaching the domain of philosophical and critical studies when we have our own tools and methodologies we can use to resuscitate anthropology. There must be a reason why performance studies degrees and departments are sprouting everywhere like mushrooms. I wonder if it is anthropology or ethnography that has been shaping the emergence of performance studies as an academic discipline or field of inquiry.
I, too, had initial reservations about performativity. It seemed to me at first that it touched everything but it could not pinpoint something. It was so because I was strict in my interpretation. I stuck to the performance theory texts I read. When I began making sense of performativity my own way, I realized that indeed it has a role to play in understanding sociocultural phenomena. It is useful in anthropology. It is the approach that appropriates every theory known to anthropology.
Performance theory, in my view, is the simplified form of system theory that goes from systemic to specific. It is a web of concepts that does not exclude but rather include other concepts. I have always believed that studying performance and imitation is enough to understand the complexities of culture. People have cultures because of the cultural narratives they share and pass on in their communities/societies.
An OAC member said that he did not see any new perspective offered by performativity. I think he had a limited understanding of performativity and performance theory, and the word "performance" is the focus of his understanding and the eyesore of his analysis of the concept. Yes, performativity is broad, but it aims to go specific. It would not be scrutinizing surfaces if it were just like postmodernism that grandly exists to verbally confuse and abuse.
Without the concept of performativity, the priest's pronouncement, "You are now husband and wife," in a church ceremony can be easily dismissed as a ritualistic utterance or a church's cliche. Performativity goes beyond what is said or heard. It can help us go beyond the superficialities of things. It can guide us in our exploration of the surfaces. It can push us to ask questions we tend not to ask because of our thinking that a text is a text or a speech is nothing but a speech.
Is the priest's statement a social speech for communal unification or a personal proclamation of authority? Is it about the church's canon on marriage or the community's coming together to celebrate kinship union? Is it merely a text from the priest's list of things to say in a ceremony or an embodiment of the text with an action the priest expects? Is the priest performing the ritual individually or collectively? Is the priest's utterance specific in place and time or general that it will make sense even when said in a porn theater at midnight?
The list of possible questions is endless. It is so because the text is not treated as a disembodied set of words or utterances. I like to think I'm not gullible when it comes to theories. I applied performativity in my culture, in my language, in my diaspora; it makes sense. It completes my understanding of texts and textual analyses. Above all, it proves what I have been espousing for awhile in ethnophilosophy and ethnopsychology that natives or ethnic communities have their own philosophy and psychology we need, as anthropologists, to recognize and study.