Research on free speech and live art

I’m spending the summer researching theories of performativity and theatricality in politics to think about how the ‘war on woke’ is a way of performing an ideology of reactionary liberalism. I want to understand how concepts of ‘free speech’ are yoked to a rather myopic understanding of liberalism, and how this understanding normalises hate speech by acting as a syencdoche of freedom. The term ‘woke’ is so vague that it hurts your brain listening to Conservative MPs and rightwing commentators railing against it, but it’s powerful. It creates a fictional enemy to fight against and liquidate from the body politic; it allows those who already possess power to further exclude marginalised, oppressed and minoritarian peoples from public discourse to protect ‘liberal values’; and it acts as an alibi to control radical movements and systems of thought to, paradoxically, enshrine freedom of speech.

One of the common accusations levelled at ‘woke’ students is their fear of new or provocative idea. This usually means the right object to students opposing racism, transphobia, homophobia and mysogyny. But it is also argued that students are unable to cope with debating complex ideas. The portrayal of ‘real’ education as being manifest as debates and lectures leaves no room for sensual forms of engaging with knowledge. This is where live art comes in. As a practice that blurs the boundaries between genres and artistic forms, that values the hybrid over the formal aesthetic, that historically acts as a stratergy for non-normative bodies and identities to become present, live art subverts established epistemologies and academic corpuses.

My research project ‘I’m Being Cancelled! I’m Being Cancelled!The desire for alternative hermeneutics in the war on woke’ is asking how free speech can be practiced through aesthetically discursive forms of knowledge exchange in performance environments. I want to understand how live art can expand public conceptions of political dialogue beyond the Enlightenment conceptions of reason and logos. I’m visiting the Live Arts Archive and the Live Art Development agency to find case studies that perform new knowledge by disrupting and transgressing normative ideations of identity, race, sexuality, gender, and history.