This volume is based on the premise that artistic performance is epistemological, a way of knowing self, culture, and other. The nine essays in this book, based on a broad range of ethnic, racial, and gender groups, share a common interest in exploring how performance reveals, shapes, and sometimes transforms personal and cultural identity. Editors Fine and Speer begin by examining the interdisciplinary roots of performance studies and the role of performance studies in the field of communication. They also discuss the power of performance to shape personal and cultural identity.
The first two chapters explore the ritual nature of performance in two different cultural contexts: an African-American church service and an Appalachian storytelling event of the legendary Ray Hicks. In both arenas, the performers act as shamans, transporting the audience from their everyday, secular lives to the higher ground of the mythic spheres of heroic and fantastic events. The next three chapters discuss the notion of place and performance in various landscapes--the English countryside, the Blue Ridge Mountains, and the farmland of the Midwest. Through analysis of the speech and songs of a modern Sussex yeoman, the ghost tales of Appalachian storytellers, and the narratives of Midwest farmers coping with hard times, the authors reveal a variety of ways in which narrative performances function to preserve people's relationship with the land. The last four chapters share a focus on women as storytellers. One chapter offers a feminist critique of personal narrative research and challenges normative assumptions about the storytelling behavior of women. Another chapter interprets a narration of a Galician woman's typical day to reveal how the performance expresses deeply held attitudes and beliefs of her cultural community. Words are not the only medium that women use to tell their stories. The next chapter examines the story cloths of Hmong women refugees from Laos as intercultural and dialogical performances. The last chapter explores self-discovery and identity in the storytelling of a woman in the last years of her life. This volume is particularly representative of the ways in which communication scholars approach performance studies, but will also interest researchers and students of folklore, anthropology, sociology, theatre, and related disciplines.