Sense of a Self, Emerging: Nomadic Trajectories in Contemporary Dance

Alan Duffield

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis

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This thesis considers a sense of self as an emergent, embodied process in somatically oriented UK contemporary dance. Central to this examination is the physicality of the dance form, with the body as a site of discourse, supporting embodied cognition and opposing mind-body dichotomies. Proposals are made concerning the emergent, processual and nomadic trajectories of a sense of a self through dance. Conditions for a process of an emergent self are linked to ideas of presence and place, which are themselves seen as emergent, plastic, mutually dependent and sustaining. Alterity and agency both stem from and are contributory towards this process.
Overall this thesis adopts a post-humanist rather than a post-modern position and uses cross-disciplinary support from writers such as Elizabeth Grosz, Rosi Braidotti, Antonio Damasio and Tim Ingold, as well as from recent work in neuroscience on action understanding and how the body in action shapes the self. Regular reference is made to the work of Moshe Feldenkrais on bodily self-awareness. Consideration is given of the sometimes controversial claims made concerning the part played by mirror neuron systems. A general discussion of theoretical material and positions established from it is then further developed and interrogated using case studies of material from practitioners Rosemary Lee and Yael Flexer - in particular Lee’s ideas concerning the intelligent body and Flexer’s on the in-between, ‘un-home’ and hybridity. This is followed by an examination of original dance work made in collaboration with dancers in training, exploring embedded and embodied possibilities for an emergent self. Analysis of particular dance works is supported by material from interviews and email exchanges with practitioners and some of the dancers involved, including an investigative dialogue between the author and Jonathan Burrows. This thesis closes by drawing together trajectories established in the preceding narratives about the idea of a self, emerging within the dancer-as-nomad.
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Royal Holloway, University of London
  • Worth, Libby, Supervisor
Award date12 Oct 2016
Publication statusUnpublished - 2016


  • Contemporary Dance
  • Somatic
  • Posthuman
  • Neurosciences
  • Environment
  • Mind/Body

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