Theo van Leeuwen, "Performance and politics"

Theo van Leeuwen, "Performance and politics"

13. Jun 2023

Theo van Leeuwen

University of Southern Denmark, Department of Language, Culture, History and Communication

Performance and politics

Abstract: Performance, in the way in which it was defined by Hymes (1972: 62), as the “manner or spirit in which an act is done”, is an integral part of all social practices. But, perhaps since the presidency of the movie actor Ronald Reagan, who “wanted to be, and became, an accomplished presidential performer” (Cannon, 1991: 50), it is playing an increasingly important role in politics, as signalled by Fairclough (2000: 14), when he wrote about political style as multimodal, and as expressive of political identities and values.
In this talk, I will present a framework for analysing the discursive recontextualization of performance, along the lines of earlier work on the representation of social actors and social actions (van Leeuwen, 2008), and apply it to the performance of politicians during election campaigns. Examples are drawn from visual and linguistic representations of the 2019 Australian election campaigns of Scott Morrison and Bill Shorten.
I will end with a critique of theories such as those of Goffman (e.g. 1959), which interpret social life entirely in terms of performance, which, inter alia, risks legitimizing the application of what Habermas (1984) called ‘dramaturgical’ validity criteria to politics.

Blaine, L. (2021) Top Blokes – The Larrikin Myth, Class and Power. Quarterly Essay 83.
Cannon, L. (1991) President Reagan: The Role of a Lifetime. New York: Simon & Schuster.
Fairclough, N. (2000) New Labour, New Language? London: Routledge.
Goffman, E. (1959) The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life. Harmondsworth: Penguin.
Habermas, J. (1984) The Theory of Communicative Action. Vol 1 Reason and the      Rationalization of Society. Boston: Beacon Press
Hymes, D. (1972) Models of the Interaction of Language and Social Life. In J. Gumperz and D. Hymes, eds. Directions in Sociolinguistics, 35-71. New York: Holt, Rinehart & Winston.  
Strangio, P. and Walter, J. (2020) The personalisation of the campaign. In Gauja, A, Sawyer, M. and Simms, M. (eds.) Morrison’s Miracle – The 2019 Australian Federal Election, 32-70. Canberra: ANU Press.
Van Leeuwen, T. (2008) Discourse and Practice- New Tools for Critical Discourse Analysis. New York: Oxford University Press.

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