PSi #18

  • Adam Alston (Participant)

Activity: Participating in or organising an eventParticipation in conference


Audience Participation and Neoliberal Value: Risk, Agency and Responsibility in Immersive Theatre

This paper examines the apparent freedoms of audience participation in relation to what we might term ‘neoliberal value’. As Jen Harvie has recently observed, the supposedly democratic potential of participatory freedoms in aesthetic space closely resembles the ideology of neoliberalism: the uncoerced individual is at the heart of both. Applying this insight to the politics of audience engagement in immersive and participatory theatre, I will look at the perception of risks associated with audience participation. Risk will be considered as a ‘value’ submitted to by choice. By exploring sociological models of risk which depart from Ulrich Beck’s thesis of the ‘risk society’, this paper asks how submitting to risk, as a ‘value’, might be re-defined within aesthetic space. Perhaps this might
open up space to re-consider the operation of participatory freedoms not as something resembling neoliberal individualism, but as something founded on mutual dependency and collective endeavour. The ‘risks’ approached in this paper are not those of the risk-assessment, but the risks of being both
responsible and at least partially accountable for how a performance unfolds once an invitation to participate is accepted. Once audiences become more than receivers, but producing participants as well, then both responsibility and accountability for the unfolding of a performance emerge. Both can be seen as risky for audiences in relation to the potential for exposure or vulnerability implied in each. Submitting to a mutual dependency on one another can be seen to imply a partial limiting of individual freedoms, but this partial limiting is itself the basis for a more equitable distribution of such freedoms. I argue that being part of a collective of participants nurtures a diminished tendency
towards unbounded freedom, because individuals are oriented towards both responsibility and accountability for the successful running of a performance. This paper claims that investment in the collectively determined and partial freedoms which emerge from audience participation might provide space to re-claim agency and risk-taking as positive values distinct from their neoliberal counterparts.

PSi 18, Leeds
PeriodJun 2013
Event typeConference
LocationLeeds, United KingdomShow on map