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Call for papers - Special issue of the jso (142)

The body and its image. The reinvention of cultural performances in Oceania
Aurélie Condevaux, Géraldine Le Roux et Laura Schuft

Presentation of the issue

This special issue proposes to explore the ways in which the study of festivals and cultural performances in the Pacific can contribute to debates that are central to the social sciences today. The expressive practices that interest us here concern events that are rendered distinct from everyday practices by diverse means (body decorations, costumes, welcoming ceremonies, etc.), and that have a deliberate communicative dimension which relies on the use of various expressive techniques, in particular of an esthetic nature. We are particularly interested in expressive events that are specifically based on the relations between different “teams” of social actors (Goffman, 1973), in which one plays a representation destined for the other in order to display certain elements considered as central to the group’s identity or culture. Several decades after the first studies on the staging of culture (Craig, Kernot & Anderson, 1999), the challenge is twofold. A first challenge concerns how contemporary social dynamics (such as development of new communication technologies, migrations or transnationalism) require renewed analyses of cultural objects. Secondly, updated analysis of cultural performances seems necessary for many reasons both political and epistemological. Since the debates on the notion of “invention of traditions” (Hobsbawm & Ranger, 1983), the legitimacy of “non-indigenous” researchers in the Pacific has been questioned (Smith, 1999; Teaiwa, 2006). Indeed, analysis of the staging of culture was brought to the forefront by debates on the “invention of traditions”, which have marked Pacific anthropology since the work of R. Keesing and R. Tonkinson (1982) and which have led to abundant literature (Babadzan 1999, 2009; Friedman, 2002; Hanson, 1989; Jolly, 1992; Thomas, 1992). Among these authors, many agree that kastom politics or cultural revivals are based on public performances of song, dance, music, mythological recitations or ceremonies (gift-giving ceremonies, initiations, etc.) chosen for their spectacular character (Babadzan, 2009: 35; Webster, 1998). These authors’ positions in terms of the question of “authenticity” or the “invention” of tradition have fed criticism toward the discipline of anthropology, at times accused of neo-colonialism (Tengan & White, 2001). This special issue therefore seeks to account for the impact of this criticism on renewed approaches in social sciences and on the development of other forms of academic discourse in the Pacific. Three dimensions of exploration shall be privileged:

Firstly, the staging of culture must now take into consideration the increasingly complex modes of portraying cultural images within multiple relations and networks. Indeed, the development of new information and communication technologies and the increase in migratory movement have led to a need for renewed analysis of cultural performances. How does the use of new modes of communication during festivals develop and how do images of the latter circulate? How does using these technologies participate in redefining social relations, representations of the body or social norms? What does the use of new modes of communication mean for various audiences? The latter seem to no longer be uniquely constituted by people who are physically present during a festival or cultural performance, but rather by multiple audiences due to instantaneous broadcasting. In what way do migratory and digital circulations participate in redefining oppositions between the “performers” (Glowczewski & Henry, 2007: 213) and their audiences, whether in Oceania or beyond? What concepts allow for broaching the representation of self and cultural identities at a time of developing information and communication technologies?

Far from leading to inevitable dematerialization, new information and communication technologies induce reconsideration of the importance of materials and bodies during these public displays, the presence of which has often been neglected in former analyses of staged performances. A second dimension of exploration shall therefore focus on the role of materiality and bodies in the social mechanisms and relations that occur during these cultural performances. Such an approach may allow for surpassing the eternal questions of the “invention of traditions”, the staging of culture or “authenticity” (MacCannell, 1973), questions which have been fostered by commercialization. How does the analysis of materiality (costumes, the circulation of goods and gifts “backstage”, etc.) or the body (techniques of the body, relation to modesty, body decorations, etc.) enhance understanding of the ways in which “expressive practices” (Alexeyeff, 2009) participate in reproducing and/or transforming the cultural schemas and modes of sociability in the Pacific? How are sociocultural changes inscribed in - and publicly expressed by - the body? Through collective expressive practices, how are social norms and hierarchies consolidated or transformed, whether the latter relate to gender, rank, socioeconomic status or origin for example (Anthias & Yuval-Davis, 1993 ; Schuft, 2012)? Such analyses necessitate considering multiple social scales of cultural performances, from the collective dimension of the staging to the individual interiorization of social norms.

A last dimension of exploration relates to the concepts used to account for these expressive events. Despite the theoretical contributions of analyses in terms of “invention” (of tradition, of culture), this theoretical framework is challenged here. Academic work within this framework has generally broached the staging of culture in a strategic perspective, as a process where diversity and conflicts are leveled out in favor of a homogenous identity or tradition in order to serve the nationalistic politics of an educated elite. Similarly, work on “identity politics” has tended to describe the affirmation of culture or identity by marginalized groups as founded on common political objectives. Beyond the impression of consensus, how are dissensions expressed in public performances of culture? The concept of “performance” which, particularly since Turner’s (1987) work, has known great success in academic publications in both French and English (Balme, 2007; Glowczewski & Henry, 2007; Kaeppler, 2002, 2010), should in particular be questioned in terms of its heuristic significance. Does this concept allow for analysis of specific actions which cannot be reduced to their meaning, but which also have a performative aspect that is deserving of full consideration (Tamisari, 2004)? In this light, and if we consider these displays in terms of their ritual (Kaeppler, 2002) or esthetic dimensions, might the concepts of “enchantment” or “effectiveness” (Gell, 1992; Revolon, 2007) be useful for their analysis? The debates on the conceptual tools used to study « staging » must also consider who is speaking. We might thus consider how the growing presence of Pacific researchers influences the ways in which analysis of “staging” is conducted. In this respect, propositions by researchers from the Pacific are particularly awaited.

The cases studied can originate from all regions of the Pacific. Different types of events are expected: from international events (Pacific arts festival, festival of Melanesian arts, Dreaming festival in Australie, etc.), to local or national festivals (Heilala festival in Tonga, Heiva in Tahiti, Laura festival in Australia, National Mask festival in Papua new Guinea, etc.). Rather than supposing opposition between performances destined for local viewing and those destined for an “outside” (namely tourist) audience, we consider the relation between these different types of staging less as a dichotomy than as a continuum that can be questioned. In this sense, we welcome study of the transnational movement of performers and the ways in which they individually or collectively capitalize their experiences, as well as analysis of the selection or integration of performers of diverse origins or the constitution of delegations on a local, national or even transnational level.

Ce dossier sera coordonné par :

- Aurélie Condevaux chargée de cours à l'Université François Rabelais, eirest,

- Géraldine Le Roux, Maître de Conférences à l'Université de Bretagne Occidentale, crbc,

- Laura Schuft, Maître de Conférences à l'Université de Nice Sophia-Antipolis, lamhess,


Titles and abstracts has to be sent to the jso ( : April 2015

Papers: September 2015

Reviewed before: Autumn 2015

Sent back for correction: January 2016

Papers will be finished for: March 2016

In press: June 2016


Alexeyeff Kalissa, 2009. Dancing from the heart. Movement, gender and Cook Islands Globalization, Honolulu, University of Hawaii Press.

Anthias Floya et Nira Yuval-Davis, 1993. Racialized Boundaries: Race, nation, gender, colour and class and the anti-racist struggle, London, Routledge.

Babadzan Alain, 1999. L’invention des traditions et le nationalisme, Journal de la Société des Océanistes 109, pp. 13-35.

—, 2009. Le spectacle de la culture : globalisation et traditionalismes en Océanie, Paris : L'Harmattan.

Balme Christopher B., 2007. Pacific Performances : theatricality and cross-cultural encounters in the south seas, New-York, Palgrave Macmillan.

Craig Barry, Bernie Kernot and Chirstopher Anderson (éds), 1999. Art and Performance in Oceania, Honolulu, University of Hawaii Press.

Desmond Jane C., 1999. Staging Tourism: Bodies on Display from Hawaiki to Sea World, London et Chicago, University of Chicago Press.

Friedman Jonathan, 2002. Y-a-t-il un véritable Hawaiien dans la salle ?, in Hamelin C. et E. Wittersheim (éds), La tradition et l’État, Paris, L’Harmattan, pp. 207-245.

Gell Alfred, 1992. The Technology of Enchantment and the Enchantment of Technology, in J. Coote and A. Shelton (eds), Anthropology, Art and Aesthetics, Oxford, Oxford University Press, pp. 40-66.

Glowczewski Barbara et Rosita Henry (eds), 2007. Le défi Indigène. Entre spectacle et politique, Montreuil, Aux lieux d'être.

—, 2011. The Challenge of Indigenous People: Spectacle or Politics, Oxford, Bardwell Press.

Goffman Erving, 1973. La mise en scène de la vie quotidienne, Paris, les éditions de minuit.

Hanson Alan, 1989. The making of the Maori: culture invention and its logic, American Anthropologist 91 (4), pp. 890-902.

Hobsbawm Eric and Terence Ranger (éds), 1983. The Invention of Tradition, Cambridge University Press.

Jolly Margaret, 1992. Spectres of inauthenticity, The Contemporary Pacific 4 (1), pp. 49-72.

Kaeppler Adrienne, 2002. Festivals of Pacific Arts: Venues for Rituals of Identity, Pacific Arts 25, pp. 5-19.

—, 2010. Interpreting Ritual as Performance and Theory, Association for Social Anthropology in Oceania 2010 Distinguished Lecture, Oceania 80, pp. 263-273.

Keesing Roger and Robert Tonkinson (eds), 1982. Reinventing Traditional Culture: The Politics of Kastom in Island Melanesia (numéro spécial), Mankind 13 (4).

MacCannell Dean, 1973. Staged Authenticity: Arrangements of Social Space in Tourist Settings, American Journal of Sociology 79 (3), pp.589-603.

Revolon Sandra, 2007. “Les esprits aiment ce qui est beau”. Formes, sens et efficacité rituelle des sculptures owa (Est des îles Salomon), Annales de la Fondation Fyssen 21, pp. 63-75.

Schuft Laura, 2012. Les Concours de beauté à Tahiti. La fabrication médiatisée d’appartenances territoriale, ethnique et de genre, Corps 10 (Corps en relations interethniques : migrations, identifications et hiérarchisations), pp. 133-142.

Smith Linda Tuhiwai, 1999. Decolonizing Methodologies – Research and Indigenous Peoples, Dunedin, University of Otago Press.

Tamisari Franca, 2004. Au-delà de la présence. Vers une compréhension de l’expression dansée yolngu (Australie), in C. Bergé , M. Boccara et M. Zafiropoulos (éds), Le Mythe : pratiques, récits, théories, 1 : Aux sources de l’expression. Danse, possession, chant, parole, théâtre, Paris, Éditions Anthropos-Economica.

Teaiwa Teresia K., 2006. On analogies: Rethinking the Pacific in a Global Context, The Contemporary Pacific 18 (1), pp. 71-87.

Tengan Ty Kawika K. and Geoffrey M. White, 2001. Disappearing Worlds : Anthropology and Cultural Studies in Hawai’i and the Pacific, The Contemporary Pacific 13 (2), pp. 381-416.

Thomas Nicholas, 1992. The Inversion of Tradition, American Ethnologist 19 (2), pp. 213-232.

Turner Victor, 1987. The anthropology of Performance, New York, PAJ Publications.

Van Meijl Toon, 1999. Fractures culturelles et identités fragmentées: la confrontation avec la culture traditionnelle dans la société maori post-coloniale, Journal de la Société des Océanistes 109, pp. 53-70.

Webster Steven, 1998. Patrons of Maori Culture: Power, Theory and Ideology in the Maori Renaissance, Dunedin, University of Otago Press.

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