“Theatre and Embodied Collective Reflexivity” published

The final version of “ Theatre and Embodied Collective Reflexivity” has now been published by the Journal of Dramatic Theory and Criticism. You can download it from the link above (the published version, by permission). The abstract reads:

Theatre is a distinctive type of social reflexivity. The question is how, like other social practices, theatre’s social function shapes its form. By examining theatre in relation to social ontology, the components of agency, and the requirements of an embodied form of collective reflexivity, one finds that theatre is characterized by a double homology with social ontology. Furthermore, conducting embodied collective reflexivity requires the performer/character distinction, which is fundamental to theatrical performance. Social ontology, then, sharpens our concept theatre’s structure and the meaning of its practice.

“Online Role-playing Games and the Definition of Theatre” now published

“Online Role-playing Games and the Definition of Theatre” has been published by New Theatre Quarterly (Vol. 33, issue 4,  pp. 345-359). The abstract reads:

Online role-playing games are a form of entertainment in which players create characters and improvisationally perform scenes together within a digital virtual world. It has many theatre-like aspects, which raises the question of whether it is in fact a form of theatre. To answer that question, however, one must first have a definition of theatre – an issue with disciplinary consequences – and in this article Tobin Nellhaus develops a definition founded on social ontology, suggesting that theatrical performance, unlike other social practices, replicates society’s ontology. From that perspective, online role-playing meets the definition of theatre. But its digital environment raises another set of problems, since embodiment, space, and presence in online role-playing are necessarily unlike what we experience in traditional theatre. Here, Nellhaus brings these three aspects of performance together through the concept of embodied social presence, showing how they operate in both customary theatre and online role-playing.

If you have journal access, you can download the published version here: https://doi.org/10.1017/S0266464X17000483. The article is currently available only in print; a PDF version will be released in a year.  In the meantime you can download the original manuscript from the Publications and Drafts page.  There are some small differences between the original manuscript and the published version.

“Embodied Collective Reflexivity: Peircean Performatives” is now published

“Embodied Collective Reflexivity: Peircean Performatives” is now officially published by the Journal of Critical Realism. Taylor & Francis/Routledge allows me to offer the official version (the Version of Record) free to up to 50 people through this link.

I am also making the “accepted manuscript” version of available for downloading. This is the final version submitted to the Journal of Critical Realism, and has some minor differences from the published version. (Posting on my personal site is permitted by Taylor & Francis/Routledge.)

The basic points (again) are these:

  • Reflexivity for individuals is a recursive practice in which one’s thought reflects on one’s own thoughts and actions, assessing past ones and preparing for new ones.  But agents are not just thoughts — they are not just intentional beings, but also embodied and efficacious in the material world.  It should be possible for agents to be reflexive not just through thoughts but through their entire embodied being.
  • If so, however, the structure of the recursion underlying embodied reflexivity can’t be the spiral of thought returning to thought, but one that involves all three of aspects of agency.  However, intentionality, causal efficacy, and embodiment do not stand in a linear relation: instead, they’re related through emergence and stratification, which the recursion must account for.  Peirce’s trichotomies achieve that.  Consequently embodied reflexivity must have a Peircean structure.
  • Agents also don’t exist alone, they always have social relations with others.  One of their key everyday challenges is sussing out others’ intentions (involving Theory of Mind), which has to occur through perceptions of their speech and actions (including self presentation, e.g, clothing, as an action).  That must be a crucial part of a collective mode of reflexivity.
  • Speech and actions are ways of doing things in the social world.  The basic point is made by Austin’s concept of speech acts, which he calls performatives, but the latter should be expanded to include “acts that speak” because embodied actions are imbued with meanings.  Theory of Mind is predicated on assessing others’ and producing one’s own performatives; an embodied and collective practice of reflexivity is intrinsically one of performers and spectators.  Hence “Peircean performatives.”
  • One (and perhaps the only) collective practice that performs this activity is dramatic performance, which covers theater, film, TV, and online streaming forms. Theater, however, is paradigmatic. Applying the Peircean recursive structure of reflexivity to theater, we find that not only can we explain theater’s ontology, but also its use of fiction.

A version of this argument intended for a theater studies journal is now in its final drafts.

“Embodied Collective Reflexivity”: An Update

My article “Embodied Collective Reflexivity” has been accepted for publication by the Journal of Critical Realism.  I don’t yet know the planned publication date but I’m guessing 2018 (maybe late 2017).  The submitted version is the second public draft, available here.

Second public draft of “Embodied Collective Reflexivity” available

I have uploaded “[Download not found].” Revised in response to reader comments, the main changes are to clarify Peirce’s concepts and more fully draw their connection to critical realism, and trim the discussion of theater.  I have removed the old version.  See this previous post for the abstract.