Crowd Work: Audience and Performance in Africa
Call for Papers
Editors: Tom Penfold (University College London) and Robin Crigler (Dickinson College)
In the words of Olaniyan and Conteh-Morgan (2004:1), “African social life never fails to impress with its own theatricality.” Indeed, acts of performance have long been central to the cultural and socio-political economies of Africa. As documented by a host of scholars, an array of African performance genres draw on the continent’s rich written and oral traditions to celebrate, lampoon, attack, and correct individuals, institutions, and hidden structures. This is done even in the face of censorship and chronic disinvestment in the arts. In keeping with the communal, participatory ethic involved in many African performance traditions, we (a scholar of poetry performance and a scholar of stand-up comedy, respectively), seek to produce an edited volume that will advance our understanding of the centrality and agency of audiences on the continent.
Recent interventions (see Boulle and Pather 2019) have demonstrated a new sense of social urgency which has once again underlined the importance of performance to Africa’s future aspirations. This study does not attempt to rehash these debates. However, as Brodie (2021) outlines, it is impossible to understand acts of performance without understanding their audiences: they are indeed collaborators. Therefore, today’s upsurge in performance requires an upsurge in audience collaboration. This is central to Crowd Work as we seek to understand the politics of audience in a new world that has been altered by the rise of the digital sphere, populism, Covid-19, and growing postcolonial impatience.
We invite abstracts for an edited volume that address themes including (but not limited to):
- Class and gender dynamics in live poetry and stand-up comedy audiences
- Historical trends and the intersection of audiences with other histories
- LGBT representation/agency in contexts of societal homophobia and conditional inclusion
- Language and “linguistic citizenship” (Williams and Stroud 2015)
- Race and the audience-centered examinations of the production, performance, and problematization of racial and ethnic stereotypes
- The navigation of disparate local contexts and categories of physical venue, as well as divides between in-person and virtual audiences
- Distinctions between social networks and other virtual platforms, problematizing the notion that all virtual audiences are the same
- Anonymity and virality in poetic and comedic production
- Economic questions; live poetry and stand-up comedy as businesses as well as arts
- Methods of poetry and stand-up comedy studies; reflections on knowledge production and systems
- Interactions within the global African and individual national diasporas
- The COVID-19 pandemic and its consequences for live and virtual performance; what pandemic changes will persist over the long-term and what will not?
The collection seeks to engage with the whole African continent, and we are particularly interested in those studies that reside outside the mainstream of African performance studies (often heavily weighted towards South Africa, Nigeria, and Zimbabwe). The intended focus is on live poetry and stand-up comedy, though other genres may also be considered. We also hope to establish a conversation between literary scholars, performance artists, stand-ups, writers, and curators.
Abstracts should be 250-330 words in length and accompanied by five keywords and a brief author biography. They should be submitted to Robin Crigler (email@example.com) and Tom Penfold (firstname.lastname@example.org) by
17 March 2023 EXTENDED DEADLINE: 2 June 2023
Completed submissions should be no longer than 8000 words and will be required by the end of 2023.