Theater ontology revisited

The lack of a recent blog post is the result of a problem that arose as I was working on an article about online roleplaying games, and the solution soon led to an idea for another article which now has my attention, since the theory I’m developing there has to be pretty well shaped before I can return to the article on online roleplaying.

But briefly, I found that that the ontology I developed previously isn’t wholly satisfactory.  It’s unclear what creates the ontological doubling and the “ontological shift,” and why this ontology works the way it does.  Also, my introduction of what I called “metadiscourse” as a quasi-ontological level was something of a hedge and I’m no longer convinced it’s justified.  On the other hand, while I tend to emphasize the character of theater as a model of social agency (e.g., in my case study in the forthcoming edition of Theater Histories), I don’t think I sufficiently attended to its functional nature as societal reflexivity.  My underlying assumption was that just as theater as an institution is emergent from general social relations, so too does theatrical performance emerge out of the theater institution, and for that reason it possesses the same structure-agency-discourse ontology that society has.  But that doesn’t necessarily follow.  These weaknesses are, I believe, connected.

If, however, one considers the fact that by and large, institutions and practices emerge from society in order to serve some purpose, then one should consider theater’s purpose and how that might be reflected in its ontology: basically, form follows function.  So if theater’s primary function is to conduct societal reflexivity, then it’s likely that the ontological doubling and shift arise from that.   (Because of the level of discussion about social reflexivity, I plan to submit this new article to the Journal of Critical Realism.)

For a while, then, my focus will be on reconceptualizing theater’s ontology, since my argument that roleplaying games are form of theater hangs, first and foremost, on the definition of theater.


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