By E. J. Westlake
Originally, I had envisioned that this issue would take up the concept of the Global South, to showcase a sample of current scholarship centered on theatre and performance in the Global South, but also to interrogate the term and its widespread use. I was thrilled to have a few very fine submissions to consider, including the four excellent essays that made their way through the peer-review process and are included here. I consider myself lucky that both established and emerging scholars labored to make their work available to us. I thought it was interesting that we ended up with four authors that all anchor their work in Africa, but I was excited by the prospect that they all addressed the use of the "Global South" as a point of reference.
What I did not consider (or did not consider well, or did not give near enough thought to) was the fact that all four essays chosen to appear in a special issue on "The Global South" are by white scholars based in institutions in the United States. As the issue entered production, Laura Edmondson, whose essay begins this issue, gently brought this to my attention. She and Kellen Hoxworth graciously agreed to help me think through the implications of a Global South issue with such lack of representation from Global South–based scholars. This expression of concern led to a helpful and generative exchange with Laura, Kellen, and the leadership of ASTR's Performance in/from the Global South Working Group.1 They shared their uneasiness with how Africa was serving as the lone representative of the Global South. They called attention to their thriving community of scholars "who work in our rapidly expanding field and who have consistently and brilliantly redefined the terrain of the Global South as much more than simply 'the non-Western,'" to quote from our email exchange. I am grateful for these conversations, which have helped to shape and inform my framing of this issue.
On the one hand, editors have limited control over submissions. We send out calls, we approach people at conferences, we network with colleagues, and we rely upon referrals. We get the essays we get (and the submissions to Theatre Journal have dropped off dramatically with the proliferation of academic journals), and we hope we have enough essays to make a full issue. We hope we can find reviewers. We hope the authors have time to rework material after we ask for revisions. Several essays we hoped to include in special issues are held up by one or more of these factors and are included in later general issues. But the real problem is much deeper and more systemic.
In 2006, a conversation about globalization and the lack of voices from outside the United States appeared in the "Editor's Forum" in Theatre Survey. Scholars from the University of California system published a letter reporting on the findings from a "research group on international performance and culture dedicated to developing a variety of scholarly approaches to global performance."2 They examined three journal issues published over the previous year on transnational performance, and noted that "[a]ll but one scholar writing in the three journals are located in the United States, Canada, or the United Kingdom." Particularly relevant to the problem of this issue of Theatre Journal was the question this group of scholars posed regarding this power differential in creating a lopsided flow of discourse:
By what means can we disrupt the asymmetrical flow of scholarly discourse where writers located in those places have not only disproportionate access to publication venues but also disproportionate influence in determining the topics, questions, and theories that are deemed "relevant" and "excellent" in the peer-review process that leads to publication?
It is striking that we are still asking these questions, and I am left wondering if we have gained any ground in addressing them. The research group suggested that "the 'other' is among us," in that we cannot collapse this discussion into tidy binaries, both because so many scholars migrate and work within different global contexts, but also because of our own intersectionalities. But I find this idea wholly unsatisfying when thinking about the leadership at our flagship journals, and the voices included in the journals themselves.
In 2006, the group optimistically wondered if those of us in positions of privilege had the power to effectively intervene. We have a responsibility to act mindfully and proactively to include global scholarship, perhaps through the concerted inclusion of work by scholars who work all over the world, as well as the nurturing of scholars whose heritage gives them a perspective on global performance. However, more fundamental shifts are necessary. There is serious work to be done, work that involves structural change in the way we curate and circulate scholarship. And our institutions and professional organizations need to get onboard.
We must change the leadership of our flagship journals to more accurately represent the world of performance scholarship. Editorial teams and boards of our top journals (with the exception of TDR) are overwhelming white and overwhelmingly based in the United States. Editorial boards are made up of the experts in our field upon whom we rely most when looking for readers of essays. We frequently rely upon other networks to find readers, but having dedicated experts who commit themselves to reading at least one essay a year helps cut down the enormous labor of finding reviewers for each essay. And as Tejumola Olaniyan noted in the same Theatre Survey forum, each region produces a kind of scholarly "accent," in terms of the style and the structure of the scholarly essay. He notes that "[o]ther things being equal . . ., the problem comes when accents cross borders." Editors and readers who are familiar with such regional differences would aid immensely in the understanding and translation of these styles.
When I decided to apply to edit Theatre Journal, I saw my job as pedagogical as much as it is curatorial. The previous editor, Jennifer Parker-Starbuck, and the current coeditor, Sean Metzger, and I discussed the possibility of leading workshops at the meetings for PSi and IFTR targeted to international scholars wanting to submit to journals based in the United States. We understand that the peculiarities of criteria for scholarly essays in this country are not readily apparent to scholars based elsewhere. We also understand that a presence at these meetings would give us an opportunity to communicate to scholars based in other parts of the globe that we were receptive to working with them. We might be able to boost submissions and find essays worth the hard work of mentorship and translation necessary to enable them to pass through the review process. Of course, with COVID-19, all of these plans are on hold.
However, I must note that the work of inclusion is difficult and time-consuming. While editors receive stipends from either publishers or professional organizations to enable travel, the journals rely largely upon editors based at Research I institutions that will provide assistance and allow for service and course release. The plain truth is that many of our most elite institutions no longer provide that support. While budgets tighten as state appropriations shrink, chairs and deans are left with difficult decisions about where to cut funding. Moreover, a genuine lack of understanding of the role that journals play in facilitating career advancement and furthering the project of inclusion pervades. We must endeavor to educate our institutional leadership on the importance of this labor.
This issue has evolved from a discussion of performance in and of "The Global South." Taking a cue from Caroline Levander and Walter Mignolo, we hoped to generate discussion about the ordering of the formerly colonized through the lens of imperial powers. While these nations were dubbed "The Third World" by forces of the cold war, the dissolution of the Soviet Union made such a designation obsolete. However, the challenges faced by the formerly colonized world remained much the same, and neoliberal globalization exacerbated already pressing environmental and economic crises. That most of these states are situated south of the imperial powers prompted political analysts to begin using the term "Global South" in the 1980s and '90s. In the journal The Global South, established just a decade ago, Levander and Mignolo hoped the new ordering would offer "productive pathways and contact points for new modes of scholarly exchange that can work against such long-standing imperatives" that "sustain and normalize the ways in which we parse power systems in an increasingly global age."3
This issue serves now as an examination of African performance within the context of "The Global South," as a reframing of the discourse on and around "The Global South." The four essays featured here are generated through research conducted by scholars in various stages of their careers at institutions in the United States. All four scholars have spent years (and decades) living in and working with scholars and practitioners from Africa.
Laura Edmondson's essay on Congolese theatre artist and choreographer Faustin Linyekula's Dinozord series leads the issue. In her essay "Faustin Linyekula and the Violence of Plague," Edmondson frames her examination in terms of stealth and secretion as she seeks to "delve into the materialities of infection." Linyekula lost his childhood friend Kabako to Bubonic plague. Kabako's absence is central to the Dinozord performance he created in the early 2000s, Dinozord: The Dialogue Series III (2006). His work was also shaped by the absence of his friend and collaborator Marc-Antoine Vumilia Muhindo, who was serving a life sentence before he escaped to exile. The escape factored into Linyekula's reworking of the performance as In Search of Dinozord (2012). Mindful that she is writing during a season of the racial violence of both COVID-19 and police brutality, which together operate "to eradicate Black bodies and devastate Black communities," Edmondson cautions us to avoid privileging narratives of that focus on single traumatic and violent events, but instead to consider the slow violence of "seepage and dispossession." To that end, she observes that "[t]he perniciousness of infectious disease in Africa clarifies the brutality of global anti-Blackness."
In "Trance States and Sufi Stages: The Poetics and Politics of Murid Theatre in Senegal," Brian Valente-Quinn considers the use of trance as intervention in Islamic performance. Taking his cue from Margaret Thompson Drewal, Valente-Quinn observes that scholars of the cultures of the Global South have historically viewed trance and ritual as part of a static monolith. He notes that Drewal's work helped to change the paradigm through which ritual is viewed, as Drewal understood participants as actors with agency in the creation of ritual performance.
Murid performance, Valente-Quinn notes, has received less attention in terms of understanding the intersection of ritual and theatre in Africa than, for example, the plays of Wole Soyinka or Werewere Liking. This, he states, is "symptomatic of its interstitial status as a Global South performance practice operating according to local dramaturgical codes that do not travel well or prove immediately legible to foreign audiences." However, the function of trance in Murid theatre provides an ideal locus in which to employ Drewal's approach. It is both "a fully poetic act and a producer of spontaneous and immersive spiritual experience," which makes it not easily readable to scholars of the Global North. But it also constitutes a unique and powerful break from the performance forms that came with colonialism.
The next essay, "The Jim Crow Global South" by Kellen Hoxworth, takes up the discussion of blackface performance as a site of colonial white supremacy. Focusing in on the figure of "Jim Crow," Hoxworth follows the circulation of blackface through several locations of the British Empire in order to understand the deployment of the "capacious yet durable racial discourses of liberalism." The racial formations represented in and forged through blackface are deeply embedded in and helped to reify liberal imperialism throughout the colonized Global South. Ultimately, Hoxworth compellingly asserts, the reverberations of Jim Crow persist and are legible within present-day expressions of global neoliberalism. Interrogating the circulation of blackface tropes reveals that the "entanglements of these disparate racial enactments and their transoceanic imperial racial regimes makes apparent the extent to which the Anglophone world and its transnational division between the Global North and South have been fashioned in the mode of minstrelsy." Hoxworth encourages us to think beyond a neocolonial ordering of the world.
The final essay in this issue is "Glocal South Sides: Race, Capital, and Performing against Injustice" by Loren Kruger. Kruger, who is from South Africa, has taught at the University of Chicago for over thirty years. Her work here problematizes the idea of the Global South by examining the "Glocal" in Chicago and Johannesburg. Noting the problems of the original impulse to draw the line between the Global North and Global South, Kruger points to recent scholarship that calls attention to the global and the local (and the glocal) in major cities, where racism and inequality coexist with economic and cultural power and influence.
Kruger examines two plays in Chicago and Johannesburg, respectively: Exit Strategy (2014) by Ike Holter, and The Man in the Green Jacket (2013) by Eliot Moleba. She notes that the two plays "highlight the shared interest of South Africans and African Americans in challenging economic injustice and structural violence wrought as much by capital speculation as by outright racism, and their impact on individuals and communities tethered to the glocal pull of affluent urban centers." Through this analysis, Kruger draws attention to the connections between "south sides" in collective responses to racial violence and structural racist oppression.
While each of these essays examines performance in Africa, they all offer unique insights on the framing of discourse on the Global South. Specifically, these scholars interrogate colonial, postcolonial, and neoliberal constructions of "the Other" that have contributed to misreadings by US-based scholars. More importantly, they implicate the ways in which performance reifies, represents, or resists structures of power that are forged in white supremacy, and how scholarship in the United States is complicit in maintaining those structures. Through the work of these four authors and with their wise and forceful insistence, US-based scholars may yet transcend the latent ideologies and the inertia that limit what could be truly global work.
1. I must emphasize the debt of gratitude I owe to Laura Edmondson and Kellen Hoxworth, who dedicated much time to working through this with me, both in terms of facilitating discussion, in generating ideas, and in reading drafts of this introduction. I also thank the organizers of the ASTR Performance in/from the Global South Working Group, who gave their time drafting a generative statement, which provided me with guidance and will spur debate and inspire action for the leadership of Theatre Journal.
2. The conversation appeared in Theatre Survey 47, no. 2 (November 2006). The letter from the UC research group was signed by Sue-Ellen Case, Sudipto Chatterjee, Catherine Cole, Lynette Hunter, Shannon Jackson, Peter Lichtenfels, Janelle Reinelt, Bryan Reynolds, John Rouse, Emily Roxworthy, Simon Williams, and Haiping Yan.
3. Caroline Levander and Walter Mignolo, "Introduction: The Global South and World Dis/Order." The Global South 5, no. 1 (2011): 1–2.