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Approaching Transnational America in Performance

Edited By Birgit M. Bauridl and Pia Wiegmink

The volume is uniquely located at the interdisciplinary crossroads of Performance Studies and transnational American Studies. As both a method and an object of study, performance deepens our understanding of transnational phenomena and America’s position in the world. The thirteen original contributions make use of the field’s vast potential and critically explore a wide array of cultural, political, social, and aesthetic performances on and off the stage. They scrutinize transnational trajectories and address issues central to the American Studies agenda such as representation, power, (ethnic and gender) identities, social mobility, and national imaginaries. As an American Studies endeavor, the volume highlights the cultural, political, and (inter)disciplinary implications of performance.

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The Borders that Cross Us: Ethnographic Sensibilities for Transnational American Studies (Ben Chappell)

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Ben Chappell

The Borders that Cross Us: Ethnographic Sensibilities for Transnational American Studies

Abstract: Ethnography is not only a method but a sensibility that prioritizes certain concerns, such as transactional research, attention to ‘small transnationalisms,’ and a preference for the scale of the susceptible. Such priorities suggest the value of interactional research for transnational American Studies.

To approach transnational American Studies conceptually through performance directs attention to the material, embodied character of social life. It is to ask how multiple, layered determinants of social relations, informed by historical formations of the national and yet exceeding them, are given form by bodies in motion. Whether this leads the researcher to contemplate intentional, aesthetic performances or quotidian routines, such a perspective holds great promise as access to the “imponderabilia of actual life” that anthropologist Bronislaw Malinowski, writing in 1922 to instruct future fieldworkers, presented as a rich source of cultural information (53). Nearly a century later, Judith Okely continues to elaborate how anthropologists have pursued the imponderable through the practice of fieldwork, citing examples of participatory research from a vast literature:

Will research proposals suggest the anthropologist will clean lavatories in a hospice …, weep with the bereaved, play children’s games all day long …, or drink the water of the Ganges …? I did not know that I would have to drive a 1,500-weight van for scrap collection, hand-milk cows and join twelve-hour Normandy banquets. I was to appear as...

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