Staging Free Speech – Monograph

I have signed a contract to write my first monograph: Staging Free Speech: British Culture Wars and the Battle for Representation. It will be published as part of Palgrave’s series, Cultural Censorship.

Debates about the threats to free speech posed by an assortment of groups—from students to social media companies to arts organisations to universities to publishers to broadcasters—are a major topic in what are called culture wars in post-Brexit Britain. The right insist they are being censored by a ‘woke’ liberal elite. For the left, censorship represents state and corporate persecution of non-normative identities, activists, and minority groups. Staging Free Speech: British Culture Wars and the Battle for Representation makes an urgent case for using performance studies to interrogate how censorship has become a key fault line in British society. It is the first monograph to investigate the theatrical materiality of the contemporary post-Brexit culture war, arguing that the performative effects of censorship divide the public into two groups: the people and the elite. This populist binary is often attributed to the 2016 EU referendum, but it has deep roots in British society. The book examines how the identities of ‘the people’ and ‘the elite’ become present as political subjects through a repertoire of free speech acts in theatre, media, and politics.

Analysing the performative effects of free speech in the contemporary British political ecology responds to a fundamentally important need to understand the relationship between the manifestation of an argument and the systems of political identification that different performances of free speech produce. Is censorship being redefined as the failure to represent all identities in public discourse? What new subjectivities are created when (real and invented) censored subjects become visible in performance? How does performance enable these subjects to enter public consciousness? This monograph seeks to answer these questions using an interdisciplinary approach combining sociology, cultural theory, and performance studies.

The work of cultural and political scholars Sara Ahmed, Edward Said, Stanley Cohen, Gavan Titley, Judith Butler, Jasbir Puar and others are placed in critical dialogue with performance scholars working in the fields of queer and feminist theory, live art, post-truth politics, and cultural identity. Protests, political festivals, social media platforms, and news media are analysed alongside case studies of theatre performances to investigate the theatrical dimensions of free speech and censorship. Theatrical case studies of work by DV8, James Graham, Gillian Slovo, the Wooster Group, Mallory Catlett and Aaron Landsman, Dawn King, Milo Rau, and others are included to discuss how theatre contributes to debates about the limits of tolerance and what counts as legitimate modes of discourse in establishing a political consensus in Britain today. Censored performances by Graham Linehan, Franko B, Brett Bailey, Omar El-Khairy, and ThisEgg are featured to determine how censorship functions as a means of defining the limits of cultural expression, and to interrogate how publicly censoring art works leverage control over the discursive territories of race, sexuality, gender, and imperialism.