Performative Listening

Hearing Others in Qualitative Research

by Chris McRae (Author)
©2015 Monographs XI, 159 Pages


Performative Listening: Hearing Others in Qualitative Research offers an alternative theory of listening – as a performative act, or as a relational stance and performance in which listeners ethically engage in an act of learning from others across difference. This theory emerges from an interdisciplinary approach to performance studies, communication, musicology, and critical pedagogy in order to present a nuanced theory of listening as performance that is always linked to questions of context, individual experiences, and cultural expectations. Working from examples of the music and autobiography of Miles Davis, this book offers a clear and practical guide for applying performative listening in the contexts of qualitative, narrative, and arts-based approaches to research and inquiry. By emphasizing the embodied, relational, and creative functions of the highly contextual and cultural performance of listening, Performative Listening presents a theory and method that can be used to rethink the ways scholars and students engage with others in a wide variety of qualitative research and educational contexts.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Contents
  • Acknowledgments
  • Introduction: Hearing Possibilities in Listening
  • A Desire to Listen
  • Goals of the Book
  • Organization of the Book
  • Listening for Possibilities
  • Notes
  • Chapter 1. Listening for Beginnings in Qualitative Research
  • Listening and Communication
  • Listening as Transformative Performance
  • Listening To
  • Listening For
  • Listening With
  • Listening From
  • Pleasures of Listening in Qualitative Research
  • Notes
  • Chapter 2. Performative Listening
  • Defining Performative Listening
  • Commitment #1: Listening with Curiosity
  • Commitment #2: Listening to and with the Body
  • Commitment #3: Listening for Context and Location
  • Commitment #4: Listening with Accountability
  • Performative Listening as Transformative Pedagogy and Research Method
  • Notes
  • Chapter 3. A Relational Ethic of Listening
  • Listening as Relational Stance
  • Listening as Critical Reflexivity
  • Listening as Critical Performative Pedagogy
  • Listening as Dialogic Engagement
  • Hearing Ethical Pleasures
  • Notes
  • Chapter 4. Listening Performatively: Hearing and Pedagogy
  • Listening for Lessons
  • Hearing Lessons in Performance
  • Hearing Lessons in Difference
  • Risk and Reflexivity
  • Notes
  • Chapter 5. Listening Musically: Hearing and Aesthetics
  • Listening for Musical Performances
  • Hearing Structures
  • Listening as Aesthetic Performance
  • Chapter 6. Listening Geographically: Hearing and Critical Reflexivity
  • Locating Listening
  • Listening from Locations
  • Social and Cultural Locations
  • Self as Location
  • Listening to Locations
  • Sounding Spaces
  • Sounds of the Listener
  • Geographic Listening
  • Chapter 7. A Call to Listen
  • Imaginative Listening
  • Invitational Listening
  • Listen
  • References
  • Index


I believe we are always shaped by the people we encounter. Their words, stories, and presence influence the ways we speak, perform, and move through the world. In music, the impact of others often becomes audible through deliberate cultivation and citation of styles and practices. You can hear the musical influences of others on a particular musician in her or his performances. Sometimes these citations are direct and obvious and other times these citations are indirect. The same is true for works of writing, such as this book. Any attempt at acknowledging the numerous influences that inform my writing will always be incomplete. However, it is important that I recognize the ways my writing of this book functions as a cultivation of the influence of the lessons and support of so many important others. This acknowledgment is not only a way to draw attention to the important roles these people play in shaping this project, but it is also a demonstration of my gratitude for their influence.

I am particularly appreciative of my academic mentors and teachers for encouraging me to listen in ways that are complex and challenging. I am grateful for my mentor and friend Stacy Holman Jones who continues to teach, shape, and support me. I am thankful for my dissertation advisor, Ron Pelias. His generous and incisive teaching style informs the ways I strive to move through ← ix | x → the world. I am especially honored to acknowledge that John Warren was a teacher who served on my dissertation committee, and who also showed me how to do the critical work of teaching, writing, and being a friend. His ethic and spirit continue to influence and shape my life story.

I am grateful for all of my teachers at Southern Illinois University, Carbondale: Nathan Stucky, Nilanjana Bardhan, Suzanne Daughton, Craig Gingrich-Philbrook, Jonny Gray, Elyse Pineau, and Lenore Langsdorf. Their ways of teaching, thinking, and working impact and resonate with the ways I now try to practice and perform as a scholar. I am also grateful for Kathy Hytten for the ways she teaches me, through the example of her friendship, the importance of being open to others.

I am grateful to be influenced by my encounters with so many other students and graduates of the Department of Speech Communication at Southern Illinois University, Carbondale including Heather Hull, Mike Garvin, Brian Healy, Susannah Bunny LeBaron, Jamie Huber, and Shauna MacDonald. I am also grateful to have met, worked with, and become friends with Keith Nainby, Amy Kilgard, and Deanna Fassett.

I am thankful for all of the relationships I have developed in the Department of Communication at the University of South Florida (USF). I am extremely grateful for coming to know and be influenced by Jillian Tullis, Tony Adams, Andrew Herrmann, Robin Boylorn, Jeanine Minge, and Roger Pippin. I am also thankful for all of the teachers and colleagues who have worked with me, listened to me, and encouraged me at USF especially Michael LeVan, Elizabeth Bell, Marcy Chvasta, Lori Roscoe, Keith Berry, and Carolyn Ellis.

This book is shaped by the teachers and students with whom I have studied, but the formation of my writing and thinking extends beyond the boundaries of academic institutions and is indelibly marked by my family relationships. I am thankful for the ways my grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins have taught me to think and feel. I am grateful for the family I have been accepted into and for the lessons in generosity I hear in the kindness of Bob, Lyn, and Katy. I am thankful for my wonderful family. I am grateful for the lessons in love I continue to learn from my mom, Laurie. She teaches me, through her support and encouragement, about the necessity of listening for creating and strengthening relationships. I am thankful for the listening and kindness of my dad, Randy. He teaches me about the importance of a patient and careful listening. I am thankful for the love of my siblings Danny and Mandy. They both teach me to listen with passion, creativity, and curiosity. ← x | xi →

I am extremely thankful for the listening of my director, best friend, and partner, Aubrey Huber. I am lucky to have met such a wonderful person. Her support, encouragement, and critical perspective shape my writing and thinking, and truly make this project possible. Her listening elevates my scholarship. Her love is invaluable and sustaining, and I am fortunate to be in a relationship with such an amazing, smart, and caring person. Thank you Aubrey, for sharing this journey with me and for teaching me what it means to listen with love.

And now, as I complete revisions of this manuscript, I am especially excited to continue learning what it means to listen with Aubrey and the newest member of our family, Graham. ← xi | xii →

← xii | 1 →


Hearing Possibilities in Listening

Listen. When I first started playing the trumpet at age 10, I was unknowingly entering into a conversation with the legendary trumpet player, Miles Davis. When I first heard a recording of Miles Davis, at age 13 or 14, I was unknowingly called to listen for the conversation of which I was already a part. The first time I read the autobiography of Miles Davis (Davis & Troupe, 1989), Miles, I didn’t hear the explicit invitation to listen in the first line of the text, “Listen” (p. 7). I didn’t recognize the ways I was already implicated. I didn’t notice the lesson. I didn’t detect the conversation that was already happening. I wasn’t aware of my position as a student to the stories and music of Davis.

I now return to this invitation to listen, as a starting place for considering the significance of what it means to listen, or to position oneself as a listener. How are we called to listen both explicitly and implicitly by others? What is the function of responding to the call or invitation to listen? What are the ethical commitments of answering this call? How might listening work as a method of inquiry? What are the pedagogical functions of listening? In this book, starting from Davis’s call to listen, I consider the possibilities of listening in terms of qualitative research and pedagogy. I also pose my own call for performative listening as a qualitative method of inquiry and an ethic of pedagogically engaging with and learning from others. If listening is ← 1 | 2 → conceptualized as a method of inquiry, then how we listen can be understood as more than a matter of measurable skills and behaviors. Listening can be understood as an ethical, aesthetic, and critical stance. Listening can also be understood as a performance of coming to and generating knowledge in relationship with others. Listening can be understood as a method and a performative act.

In this book, I offer an invitation for you to consider the possibilities of listening for your own practice as a researcher, as a student, or even more broadly as someone who encounters and interacts with others. I invite you to hear, in my examples and stories, your own questions about the ethics of listening, and the function of listening as a way of creating connections, relationships, and knowledge. I invite you to hear listening as a performance that is pleasurable, productive, and full of possibilities. The reason for this invitation is because I believe that developing our abilities to reflect on our practices of listening can allow us to hear each other in new and better ways. And I believe hearing each other is key, not only to strengthening relationships, but to creating ethical interactions, and pleasurable learning experiences.


XI, 159
ISBN (Softcover)
ISBN (Hardcover)
Publication date
2014 (May)
Musicology Pedagogy Miles David
New York, Bern, Berlin, Bruxelles, Frankfurt am Main, Oxford, Wien, 2015. XI, 159 pp., num. ill.

Biographical notes

Chris McRae (Author)

Chris McRae (PhD, Southern Illinois University, Carbondale) is Assistant Professor in the Department of Communication at the University of South Florida. He has published articles on music performance and listening in journals such as Text and Performance Quarterly and Cultural Studies-Critical Methodologies.


Title: Performative Listening
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173 pages