Performance Research: "On Generosity"

call for papers

Vol. 23, No. 5 ‘On Generosity' (July/August 2018)

Issue Editors: Laurie Beth Clark & Michael Peterson

Proposal Deadline:  22 October 2017

Can generosity fix what is wrong in our world?

This issue calls for critical examinations of the ethics and practices of generosity, as well as generosity’s inherent performativity. Without recourse to a naive faith in its potential, but also without devolving into cynicism about its limits, we hope that this volume can take a fresh look at the possibilities of generosity. We seek submissions that analyse practices of generosity in everyday life, political and economic interventions, the textual or structural appearance of generosity as narrative instances and as represented in theatrical performances. We are especially interested in essays that consider generosity itself as a performative relation, and enquiries into the generosity and generativity that may lie at the heart of performance itself.

Grand claims are made about the power of generosity, from interpreters of Lewis Hyde’s book The Gift to advocates of ‘demurrage’-based alternatives to interest economies. (Demurrage is essentially a ‘tax’ for holding a ‘currency’ out of circulation - an incentive to spend and invest.) Generosity is understood by some as key to responding to issues ranging from the global refugee crisis to bullying. But we should not see generosity only through rose-coloured glasses. Writing in the 1920s, Malinowski and Mauss’ foundational research on gift economies points out that generosity can also function as an instrument of domination, and numerous historical and contemporary examples of aid-for-influence demonstrate its abuse.

To ‘give’ a performance may be but one side of a transactional exchange, an ‘offer’, but we contend that performance is often shaped by (or understood to involve) a fundamental act of giving. As Lewis Hyde argues,

that art that matters to us—which moves the heart or revives the soul, or delights the senses, or offers courage for living, however we choose to describe the experience—that work is received as a gift by us. Even if we have paid a fee at the door of the museum or concert hall, when we are touched by a work of art something comes to us that has nothing to do with the price. 
(Hyde (2007 [1979]: xvii)

The language of generosity permeates performance. Performers are ‘gifted’ and celebrities speak of ‘giving back’. For some actors and singers there is an entire complex of martyrdom around performance, of giving oneself or giving it all.  A central subset of generosity is hospitality, and performers welcome audiences to a place known as the ‘house’. But there is also the generosity of spectators and audiences: we ‘give freely’ our applause, while we pay for the tickets, and we speak of ‘supporting’ our friend’s projects by attending them. Is the ‘suspension of disbelief’ an act of generosity?  And what of critics and ‘generous’ reviews?

Generosity explicitly underwrites much of the art that is today known as ‘social practice’ but it is also implicitly part of theatrical endeavours. ‘Performance’ may now mean serving dinner at a homeless shelter, planting a community garden, picking up trash with sanitation workers or establishing a social network. There has also been an increasing acceptance (and exploitation) of such works by mainstream arts institutions -which some have recognized as a neoliberal outsourcing of outreach operations to individual artists or the disappearance of grants that support artists in favour of those that promote ‘useful’ community service and/or tourism. In contrast, some artists (leading or heeding Claire Bishop’s call for more agonism in performance) create works that are assertively, intentionally ‘ungenerous’ and belong to a long avant-garde tradition of hostility towards the audience. We’d like to hear from advocates of this position.

The ubiquity of paid admissions and ticketing infrastructures can obscure the generosities at the heart of even the most conventional theatrical production: historical submissions may consider patronage in Western theatre, renaissance meta-theatrical references to the exchange between performer and audience or the even more direct connections in Restoration comedy or modern stand-up.

We encourage submissions on a wide range of topics, included but by no means limited to performance, social practice and alternative, street and community theatres. Alongside such performances we are keen to prompt considerations of generosity in ‘everyday life’, as well as political actions framed within generosity, such as self-organizing groups, anarchism and mutual aid, performances of generosity during Occupy and other protests and the politics of hospitality in the context of the global refugee crisis.

We invite contributions in the form of longer essays (between 4,000 and 6,000 words), shorter provocations (2,000 words) and artist pages but also welcome suggestions for unique or hybrid formats.

Bishop, Claire (2012) Artificial Hells: Participatory Art and the Politics of Spectatorship. London: Verso.
Hyde, Lewis (2007 [1979]) The Gift: creativity and the artist in the modern world. Twenty-fifth anniversary edition, New York: Vintage Books.

Proposals:     22 October 2017
First Drafts    February 2018
Final Drafts:  April 2018
Publication:   July/August 2018

ALL proposals, submissions and general enquiries should be sent direct to the PR office:

Issue-related enquiries should be directed to the issue editors:
Laurie Beth Clark (
Michael Peterson (michael.w,

General Guidelines for Submissions:
  • Before submitting a proposal we encourage you to visit our website ( and familiarize yourself with the journal.
  • Proposals will be accepted by e-mail (MS-Word or RTF). Proposals should not exceed one A4 side.
  • Please include your surname in the file name of the document you send.
  • Submission of images and visual material is welcome provided that all attachments do not exceed 5MB, and a maximum of 5 images.
  • Submission of a proposal will be taken to imply that it presents original, unpublished work not under consideration for publication elsewhere.
  • If your proposal is accepted, you will be invited to submit an article in first draft by the deadline indicated above. On the final acceptance of a completed article you will be asked to sign an author agreement in order for your work to be published in Performance Research.