Published in:
Performance Research 20.4 (2015): 104-111.

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With this essay, my hope is to contribute to recent conversations about art and its supporting infrastructures — discussions that are working, I believe, to unsettle a kind of anti-institutional prejudice that has haunted performance studies. As the rather polemical title hints, I enter these discussions by revisiting an older set of debates that arose in the annals of cultural studies in the 1990s. I argue that Tony Bennett’s controversial claim — that we put policy into cultural studies — unintentionally invites us to examine how ‘policy’ itself might continue to serve as a generative term to further unravel unhelpful dichotomies and persistent predispositions.

By tracking a critical genealogy of these so-called ‘policy debates,’ I contend also that we move beyond the acknowledgement – or avowal – that arts of institutional thinking are essential in and for performance studies. Ultimately, I want to suggest that performance as policy has a unique capacity to inspire experimental modes of social organization and perhaps even an overhaul of our institutions of public life. My hope is that an examination of the ways a notion of what I call ‘institutional (dis)avowal’ is already embedded in the history of contentious conversations about culture and administration will both bolster this claim and open avenues for further inquiry.

Cultural policy would not misunderstand itself as godwilled; it would not blindly endorse faith in culture, blind to its entanglements with the social totality – and for that very reason truly entangled – it would find a parallel in the negative naiveté involved in accepting administration as faith, that is, whoever receives an office from god, receives ratio from him as well.

Theodor W. Adorno