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Title: Play and cultural transformation : designing for reflexive agency in participatory performance
Authors: Harper, James Andrew
Issue Date: 2020
Publisher: Newcastle University
Abstract: This thesis presents a theorisation of the culturally transformative potential of play in participatory performance, exploring how play can promote reflexivity and enhance participants’ creative volition. It examines how play designs can respond to the cultural particularity of players, enabling them to express agency in relation to issues of personal concern; it considers the relationship between participant-led documentation and pedagogy, as memories of play feed into ongoing learning, and it interrogates the aesthetics of space and time in play, investigating how a perceptual shift beyond the immediacy of here and now might support reflexivity that expands players’ creative capacity to engage in culturally transformative experiences. The thesis includes discussion of research-led applications of live action role-play practices in several projects undertaken by the author during 2017-2018. It is situated in the field of performance but applies insights on play from game studies and fine art, as well as Pierre Bourdieu’s concept of habitus, Lev Vygotsky’s theories of learning and Baruch Spinoza’s theory of affects. This thesis contributes to knowledge in participatory performance by presenting design methods that respond to participants’ cultural particularity, drawing on habitus as a conceptual tool for exploring the dispositions of players as the source material for play frameworks. It proposes flexible design structures that foreground the co-creative agency of players and foster culturally transformative potential through intersubjective exchange. The thesis investigates how participant-led documentation in the embodied memory of recurring play activities can support further transformative possibilities through ongoing learning. Lastly, it explores spatio-temporal reflexivity in play, utilising Spinoza’s concept of affective potentia to propose aesthetic strategies that enhance participants’ perceptual range and strengthen their capacities for self-determined action. Cumulutively, these investigations yield a theoretical model of participatory performance design termed anchorage-leverage, which applies an aesthetics of spatio-temporal reflexivity to support participants in transcending the limitations of their habitus and playing with potential transformations in cultural values and practices.
Description: PhD Thesis
Appears in Collections:School of English Literature, Language and Linguistics

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