“Performance” can mean the everyday accomplishment of a task or function, or acting in special contexts such as plays, music, or sports. The first meaning links “performance” to the fulfillment of social roles; in both cases, instances of “performance” reference and reiterate the conventions of meaning that define communities, societies, or nations (“as American as [eating] apple pie”). Scholars have adopted the term “performative” (derived from language philosopher J. L. Austin’s “performative utterance” in How to Do Things with Words [1962]) to good effect in analyzing the everyday enactments that constitute aspects of identity such as gender, sexuality, class, and race (Butler 1988; Parker and Sedgwick 1995). These understandings of “performance” and its variants are tied to what Erving Goffman (1959) called the “presentation of self”: how words and actions manifest human signification, relationship, status, and power.

The more specific case of theatrical performance is never far from these usages. …

This essay may be found on page 185 of the printed volume.

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