Performing politics: representation and deliberation in the public sphere
Hill, Sarah Jane
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The metaphor of politics-as-performance is commonly found in the political vernacular, from political ‘actors’ on the world ‘stage’ to the phenomenon of actors-turned-politicians. This interdisciplinary thesis comprises an extended exploration of the metaphor of politics-as-performance to generate a thick description of how political actors are represented in the visible public sphere. Performance theory has a strong heritage in other disciplines within social science, notably sociology (Goffman) and social anthropology (Turner), but has had more limited application in political science. Taking this limitation as a starting point, the thesis will argue that the metaphor of politics-as-performance is more than a banal turn of phrase. It can be a powerful analytical and theoretical tool in exploring the role, form and content of political information in a deliberative democracy. The thesis sets up and draws upon four UK-based case studies: the 2007 Blair-Brown premiership handover; the Scottish National Party’s 2007 election campaign; the Faslane 365 nuclear blockade in 2006-2007; and the London ‘7/7’ terrorist attack in 2005. These cases generate a thick description of the metaphor by combining ethnographic participant-observation and document analysis with the analytical tools and concepts of performance analysis such as staging, scripting and body work analysis. The analysis of the empirical research highlights the complexity of the practice of political representation in an increasingly mediatised public sphere, as well as providing an experiential account of lived deliberation. In the case of the Blair-Brown handover, the thesis shows how the scripted characterisation and iterative rituals of national identity reinforce each political actor’s representative authority. This is contrasted with the more playful, ludic performance of the Scottish National Party’s election campaign based on the ‘presence’ of key actors. The thesis also shows how unconventional political actors used more visceral and embodied performance techniques to gain visibility in the public sphere. The Faslane protestors, as well as incorporating devices such as humour and music into their performance, focus on transformations of their performing bodies and use themselves as representations of resistance. This theme of representing resistance is developed in the London terror attack case where the performance enforces violent transformations not only of the political actors’ bodies and symbolically-resonant spaces but of the audience as well. The empirical cases thus provide a richly textured account of the techniques that both conventional and unconventional political actors use to insert themselves into the public sphere. In conclusion, the thesis offers a descriptive construction of the metaphor of politics-as-performance. This demonstrates its applicability to the political sphere and highlights the performative aspects of deliberation.