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Call for contributions – Precariousness


Please consider making a proposal in response to the ‘Call for contributions’ – and please also share with others who may be interested.


Precariousness and the performances of welfare

RiDE: the Journal of Applied Theatre and Performance – Special themed issue

Edited by Jenny Hughes

Call for contributions

‘Precarious’ is a word that has been used, alongside its synonyms – uncertain, risky, perilous, unbalanced, unreliable, dependent, fragile, vulnerable – to describe the lived experiences of insecurity attaching to economic neoliberalism. In some parts of the world, neoliberal economic policies have rolled back gains made by citizen movements relating to access to welfare and education. In others, neoliberalism has tied economic development to the implementation of free market principles and entrepreneurial freedoms in ways that threaten alternative modes of generating and distributing resource. As an economic system that privatises the monetary rewards of risky financial and trade practices whilst socialising their costs, neoliberalism has led to deepening economic inequality globally, and created new pressures on established practices of welfare and social support.

This special issue responds to an increasingly urgent imperative to share and debate approaches that have been used by theatre-makers and drama educators to address issues of welfare, poverty and economic justice internationally. Contributions might address the following questions:

  • How are the diverse communities of social theatre and drama education effected by the generalised conditions of insecurity produced by neoliberalism? What critical and creative practices of welfare and education are possible?
  • How are theatre-makers and drama educators drawing on the art of theatre and performance to support the welfare of those growing up, learning, working and living in economically precarious environments?
  • What approaches have theatre-makers and drama educators developed in communities and sites affected by poverty, and what approaches are needed?
  • How can social theatre and drama education initiatives work critically with the imperatives of ‘self entrepreneurship’, ‘self appreciation’ and ‘self care’ demanded by neoliberal forms of education, welfare, work and community practice?
  • What are the politics of ‘precariousness’ and its associated terminology, and where does this language fail? What relationships exist between scholarly language and the material realities it attempts to grapple with?

In responding to these questions, contributions might focus on:

  • Theatre and drama education in communities and sites affected by poverty
  • Creativity, drama and the neoliberalisation of education and/or welfare
  • Theatre and economic justice initiatives – theatre’s contributions to Occupy and commons projects, anti-gentrification activism, and precarious labour movements
  • Precarious labour in the field of social theatre and drama education
  • The theatricality of precarity
  • ‘Poor theatre’ in social theatre and drama education
  • DIY and makeshift theatres created by emerging artists
  • Disruptive modes of creative entrepreneurship

Context: precarious, precariousness, precarity …

Isabell Lorey suggests that ‘precaritisation is not an exception, it is rather the rule … It has become an instrument of government and, at the same time, a basis for capitalist accumulation that serves social regulation and control’ (Lorey 2015: 1). The term ‘precarity’ originates in Europe, arising from studies of post-industrial labour, the breakdown of post-war welfare contracts and deepening economic inequality. It is a contested term, critiqued for its potential displacement of inequalities highlighted in long-term discussions of class, globalisation and poverty. At the same time, it is a term that brings previously unconnected disciplines and practices into contact with each other to take part in a conversation about pressing issues and common experiences. As such, ‘precariousness’ and ‘precarity’ describe shared, affective experiences that might be drawn on to shape and understand new forms of social support, creativity and activism in arts and education.

So for example, Judith Butler draws on the motif ‘precarious life’ to describe the relations of interdependence and mutual vulnerability, both pernicious and potential, that emerged after 9/11 (Butler 2004). Political theorist Isabell Lorey, cited above, explores ‘precaritisation’ as a strategy of neoliberal governmentality that produces servile subjects as well as critical and creative modes of ‘being in common’. From outside of a cultural studies perspective, economist Guy Standing has described the ‘precariat’ as a globally emergent class, characterised by non-contracted, poorly recompensed, mobile labour. In activist domains, the term (and experience of) ‘precarious work’ has mobilised alliances between disparate communities of migrants, students and workers, and in education, it has been drawn on to create awareness of growing numbers of young people affected by debt and poor employment prospects. In theatre and performance studies, examinations of precariousness feature across a range of publications on theatre and neoliberalism. This scholarship has explored theatre’s engagements with communities struggling with poverty, competing constructions of economic and cultural value, and the neoliberalisation of cultural practice (Harvie 2013; Wickstrom 2012; Nielsen and Ybarra 2012). Cultural policy research has contributed critiques of arts-led regeneration and the ‘gentrification’ of impoverished areas, and of rhetoric about the role of culture in economic development. The funding environments that support social theatre and drama education globally also reproduce conditions of precarity. Social theatre projects with vulnerable groups, for example, can be driven by criteria that demand measurable gains in what Michel Feher calls ‘self appreciation’ – improvements in creativity, confidence and communication skills (Feher 2009), as a precursor to exploitation as economically productive units. The balance in explorations of precariousness – between precarity as a strategy of governance and as an experience from which critical lines of flight might be envisaged, is evident in contributions to a recent issue of TDR: The Drama Review, which examined precarity through a series of close readings of the performing body (Schneider and Ridout 2012). The Occupy movement, of course, provided figures and forms of discourse, sociality and public spectacle that express the potential and challenges of such balancing acts.


Please send 300 word proposals with 200 word biographies for research articles (6000 words), documents (1500 words), or online outputs to jenny.hughes@manchester.ac.uk by 10th July 2015.

 Documents and online outputs might include project descriptions, manifestos, provocations, letters and/or photo essays, recorded conversations with theatre-makers and drama educators, annotated clips of performance, and/or other forms of documentation.

All research articles will undergo rigorous peer review, based on initial editor screening and refereeing by at least two anonymous referees. Documents will receive editorial review only.

Further information

The special issue is linked to a symposium, ‘Making theatre in the midst of austerity’, taking place on 4th November 2015 (University of Manchester, UK). Contributors to the special issue may like to attend the symposium but this is not essential. For more information go to www.manchester.ac.uk/poortheatres/events/


 10th July 2015             Deadline for proposals, shortly followed by commissions

4th November 2015   Poor theatres symposium

29th January 2016      Submissions, followed by peer review

July 2016                    Final drafts

September 2016       Manuscript submitted

February 2017           Publication (22:1)

Editor details

 Dr Jenny Hughes is Senior Lecturer in Drama at the University of Manchester (UK), and is currently working on a research project called ‘Poor theatres: a critical exploration of theatre, performance and economic precarity’ (www.manchester.ac.uk/poortheatres) funded by the Arts Humanities Research Council (UK).


Isabell Lorey State of Insecurity (London and New York: Verso, 2015)

Judith Butler Precarious Life: The Powers of Mourning and Violence (London and New York: Verso, 2004)

Michel Feher ‘Self-appreciation; or, The Aspirations of Human Capital’ Public Culture, 21:1 (2009), 21-41

David Harvey A Brief History of Neoliberalism (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005)

Jen Harvie Fair Play: Art, Performance and Neoliberalism (Basingstoke, UK: Palgrave Macmillan, 2013)

Lara D. Nielsen and Patricia Ybarra (eds) Neoliberalism and Global Theatres: Performance Permutations (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2012)

Guy Standing The Precariat: The New Dangerous Class (London, New York, Dehli: Bloomsbury, 2011)

Maurya Wickstrom Performance in the Blockades of Neoliberalism: Thinking the Political Anew (Basingstoke, UK: Palgrave Macmillan, 2012).

Rebecca Schneider and Nicolas Ridout (eds) ‘Precarity and Performance’ special issue, TDR: The Drama Review, 56:4 (2012)

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