**this syllabus will be updated throughout the semester, please check back accordingly**

Theories of Movement

Performative Bodies & Somatic Fictions: Theorizing Sex, Race, and Ability

Department of Performance Studies
Spring 2017
Mondays, 4:00-6:30
721 Broadway, 612

Course Description & Learning Objective

How does bodily movement become politically meaningful? This course approaches that question through critical analysis of sex, race, and ability as somatic fictions: structures of social stratification that are simultaneously experienced materially in, on, and by our physical bodies. To name these systems as “fictions” is not to discount the ways that they have real, material effects on bodies, on lives, and in the world, but to highlight the ways in which they are discursively produced in order to benefit specific forms of domination.

We will begin the semester by laying the groundwork of embodiment and movement analysis, reading key thinkers in gender studies, feminism, disability studies, and critical race studies. In the second half of the semester, students will apply their theoretical skills to case studies and sites drawn from professional sports, sex work, activist movements, and popular culture, while continuing to build an intersectional analysis. Readings, films, and class discussions will be complemented by writing exercises designed to address writing about performance and performativity in politically engaged ways.


Assignments & Grading:

  1. Weekly Posts (30%): each week you will post summaries of the week’s texts on our class blog. In at least 500 words, you will address:
    1. How does this text contribute to the larger questions of our course? Please be specific, raising points that will contribute to our class discussion.
    2. What is the main argument of each text, and what is at stake for the author/director in this argument?
    3. What is the central question or problem engaged by each text?
    4. Optional: You may share a cultural or aesthetic object with us that you find relevant to the week’s readings. Your description of the object does not count towards the 500-word minimum of your post.
  2.  Performance Reviews (30%): you are responsible for writing two, four-page reviews of performances you have attended or witnessed during our semester together. You may choose to write about formal dance or theater performances, gallery shows, sporting events, media spectacles, or even snippets of everyday life. Each review should include thick description as well as citations of 2-4 class readings that help you construct a critical analysis of the performance in question. Please consult this dossier of example reviews I have provided. Not sure what counts as a performance? Come talk to me.
    Performance Review #1 Due: before March 1, 2017.
    Performance Review #2 Due: before April 1, 2017.
    Reviews turned in early will receive extra credit. The earlier you turn it in, the more extra credit you receive. 
  3. Final Paper & Presentation (25%): Your final paper will be an 8-10 page analysis of a single case study. This may be a continuation of one of your performance reviews, or you may decide to choose an entirely different object. You must use 3-5 class texts as sources, and you may use no more than 2 external sources. On the final day of class, each student will present a 10-minute version of their final paper. This is a formal, academic presentation. Speaking in a disorganized, informal manner for 10 minutes will result in a failing grade.

Final Papers Due: May 7, 2017 (before midnight)

Final Presentations: May 8, 2017 (in class)

  1. Attendance & Participation (15%): This is a small, discussion-based course that only meets once a week. Meaningful attendance by all of us is crucial for a successful semester together. You are expected to come to class each week ready to engage with the materials and your colleagues; you can expect the same of me. I expect you to talk in class—a lot—and I hope that this will not be a cause of anxiety.  I have a fantasy that we will foster a productive workshop space together, please don’t let me down! Unexcused absences will impact your final grade. Medical absences must be accompanied by documentation. You are expected to complete the weekly post even if you miss class, and even if your absence is excused.


Attendance: see above.

Office Hours: e-mail me at eht227 (at) to make an appointment. You may request an appointment for any reason, don’t be shy. Common topics of conversation: an upcoming assignment, my feedback to your writing, classroom dynamics, course material, and related matters.

Gadgets: You may use laptops and tablets during class time only to refer to course readings and our class website. If distractions become a problem I will ban gadgets and all of us will have to start printing out alllll of the readings, every single week. So, seriously, don’t ruin it for the rest of us.

Turning In: Performance reviews and final papers should be e-mailed to me ( as a .doc file before midnight on the assignment’s deadline. All papers should be written in Times New Roman, 12 pt, double-spaced, with 1-inch margins. I have no patience for the following bullshit:g 2.5 or even 2.1 linespacing,  1.25 inch margins, punctuation in size 14, etc.  Weekly posts must be posted before midnight on Sundays before class meetings.

Texts: You are expected to bring each text to every course meeting. There are four books to purchase; they are available at the campus bookstore but I recommend looking for used copies elsewhere. I will provide digital copies of the rest of the readings.


January 23—Introductions; Movement & Performativity

  • Marcel Mauss, “Techniques of the Body”
  • Giorgio Agamben, “Notes on Gesture”
  • Alex Pittman, “Dis-Assembly Lines: gestures, situations, and surveillances”

January 30thSocial Construction & Material Reality: What is a somatic fiction?

  • Judith Butler, Bodies That Matter (Preface & Intro)
  • Ann Pellegrini, Performance Anxieties (Intro & “Oedipus Reps”)

February 6th—Governing Bodies: Introduction to Biopolitics

  • Michel Foucault, “The Right of Death and the Power Over Life,” from the History of Sexuality Volume I (page 133-end)
  • Giorgio Agamben, “What is an apparatus?” (page 1-24)

February 13th—Bodily Dis/ability

  • Robert McRuer, “Compulsory Ablebodiedness and Disabled Existence.”
  • Jasbir Puar, “Prognosis Time: Towards a geopolitics of affect, debility and capacity”
  • Jacqueline Rose, “Bantu in the Bathroom: the trial of Oscar Pistorius,”
  • The Economist, “Illness as Indicator”
  • Ann Neumann, “Our Body Politic”

February 27th— Political Economy & Body Politics I

  • Shelly McKenzie, Getting Physical: The Rise of Fitness Culture in America
  • Optional:  Perfect (dir. James Bridges, 1985) (film)

March 6— Political Economy & Body Politics II

  • Lisa Duggan, The Twilight of Equality (Introduction)
  • Patricia Clough, The Affective Turn (Foreward & Introduction)
  • David Getsy, “Keyword: Capacity” from Transgender Studies Quarterly
  • Hella Tsaconas, “Bad Math: Calculating Bodily Capacity in Cuts: A Traditional Sculpture

March 20—Sex Work I

  • Paul B. Preciado, Testo Junkie: Sex, Drugs, and Biopolitics in the Pharmacopornographic Era

March 27— Sex Work II

  • Margot Weiss, Techniques of pleasure: BDSM and the Circuits of Sexuality
  • Film: Live Nude Girls Unite!

April 3—Race and Corporeality

  • Frantz Fanon, “The Fact of Blackness,” from Black Skins, White Masks
  • Jennifer Doyle, “Dirt off Her Shoulders,” from GLQ: Athletic Issue
  • Sarah Ahmed, ”The Phenomenology of Whiteness,” from Feminist Theory

April 10—The Black Athlete

  • Nicole Fleetwood, “The Black Athlete: Racial Precarity and the American Sports Icon,” from On Racial Icons: Blackness and the Public Imagination.
  • Tavia Nyong’o, “The Unforgivable Transgression of Being Caster Semenya”

April 17— Case Study: Jack Johnson

  • Theresa Runstedtler, Jack Johnson: Rebel Sojourner.
  • Film: Unforgivable Blackness: The Rise and Fall of Jack Johnson

April 24—Virtuosic Femininity

  • Claudia Rankine, “The Meaning of Serena Williams.” (New York Times)
  • Gia Courlas, “Where are all the black swans?” (New York Times).
  • Film: T-Rex: Her Fight for Gold

May 1— Resistance & Experimentation

  • Gilles Deleuze & Felix Guattari, “How to make yourself a body without organs,” from A Thousand Plateaus
  • Deb Levine, “How To Do Things With Dead Bodies”

May 8: Final Presentations In Class