Performative Social Science: A Consideration of Skills, Purpose and Context


  • Brian Roberts University of Central Lancashire



performance, performative turn, performance studies


This article reviews recent work applying a notion of "performance" in the study and representation of lives. It tries to clarify some of the issues involved—including the meaning of "performance"—and "performative"—the range of possible approaches (e.g., in addition to drama—other arts) and the relationship between "subjects", "researcher" and "audience". An immediate concern is the nature of the researcher—as having the necessary skills and abilities or knowledge involved in "performance" (in researching, writing, recording and representing), as engaged (to some extent) in "artistic" endeavour, and moving between a number of "roles" and social relations in "performing" with/to others (the "researched" group, audience and society). An important issue for social science in crossing or bridging the social science-arts, in taking up "performative approaches", is "What remains distinctive about the social science if it becomes involved with performance approaches?" As a source for comparison (and inspiration), some brief reference will be made to the work of KANDINSKY—who moved across disciplinary boundaries and artistic practices—as ethnographer, painter, teacher, designer, theorist and poet. Finally, perhaps, there is a deeper "turn" indicated by the "turn to performance" in the study of lives, a more "complete" portrait of the individual as an active, communicative and sensual being. URN: urn:nbn:de:0114-fqs0802588


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Author Biography

Brian Roberts, University of Central Lancashire

Brian ROBERTS has a PhD in Sociology from the University of Birmingham, UK. His research interests include narrative, biography, and communal identities. In an former FQS issue, Brian published "Political Activism and Narrative Analysis: The Biographical Template and the Meat Pot" (




How to Cite

Roberts, B. (2008). Performative Social Science: A Consideration of Skills, Purpose and Context. Forum Qualitative Sozialforschung Forum: Qualitative Social Research, 9(2).