NiTRO + Creative Matters

Perspectives on creative arts in higher education

Critical Performance Studies in the Sir Zelman Cowen School of Music and Performance at Monash University

By Professor Stacy Holman Jones  — Collaboration, authorship and preparing a new generation of storytellers who critically question and ethically engage with knowledge systems and representations is at the heart of a new minor in critical performance studies at Monash University.

n integral part of the new Sir Zelman Cowen School of Music and Performance, this minor focuses on developing knowledge, skills, and practices that help our students understand, creatively engage, and transform the world around them.

Performance is a practical and creative method for participants and publics to access research findings and apply them to their own lives

 We’ve created a curriculum that offers an inclusive and safe laboratory for testing and working out responses to social problems on stage that can be translated into everyday life. Students learn how socially engaged arts research and practice work together to create, in the words of Donna Haraway, “collectives capable of new practices of imagination, resistance, revolt, repair, and mourning” that are now needed to compose a “common liveable world”[1]. Students do this work by exploring performance as:

  • The study of a particular performance or set of performance practices as a lens for understanding the ethical and relational nature of human creativity, communication, and collaboration. Performance Studies foundational scholar Dwight Conquergood calls this aspect of critical performance studies the analysis or ethical representation and interpretation of art and culture.

  • A method for learning about cultures, identities and ways of living as a foundation for ethical and collaborative knowledge creation. Conquergood calls this aspect of performance studies research the accomplishment or making of knowledge. The diverse knowledge students create in these explorations comes from doing, participatory and accountable understandings and performing as a way of knowing.

  • A way of making sense of critical theory and creative practice, with a particular emphasis on outreach; connecting to community; and creating social, cultural and political dialogue, transformation and change. Conquergood calls this aspect of performance studies research a focus on the articulation of our research findings. Here, performance is a practical and creative method for participants and publics to access research findings and apply them to their own lives.

Through units focusing on critical performance studies in the arts; critical intercultural performance; improvisation in performance; agency, advocacy and activism; the art of teaching performance; navigating the performing arts sector and critical performance studies and artistic research, students explore key concepts in critical performance studies such as: Performativity, which posits that identities and relations such as gender or family are the effects or accomplishments of our actions in the world, rather than the source/cause of those actions. Intersectionality, which recognizes these multiple and mutually influencing axes of social division and oppression and uses this understanding as a tool for assessing and responding to the complexity of the world[2] (Hill Collins & Bilge, 2016). Affect, which considers how, in addition to thought and thinking, the felt-sense of an experience, identity, or emotion shapes and shifts the social. And the concept and process of queer and queering practices, which attempt to “disrupt” the naturalised (and often oppressive) order of things in ways that create more open, more possible and more joyful futures for people and beings who are marginalized and subject to violence in the current world[3].

Students also consider positionality and representation in storytelling through a focus on autoethnography and narrative inquiry, both methods and modes of representation that bring together the embodied, emotional and experiential aspects of the personal storytelling with a process of analysing, asking questions about and coming up with ways to positively change culture and social life.

We see critical performance studies as integral part of preparing new generations of storytellers to question not only the assumptions of identity and cultural expression but also taken-for-granted knowledge systems and artistic practices. It is a discipline and a way of working that is centrally focused on creating – not only new works of art, but new and more equitable, sustainable and secure ways of relating and living together on our planet. That twin commitment to creativity and change has those of us in the Sir Zelman Cowen School of Music and Performance excited about how our new minor helps us meet the multiplicity, complexity and ethical demands of relationships, our environment and our past and our collective futures.

[1] Haraway, 2016, pp. 51, 40).

[2] Hill Collins & Bilge, 2016.

[3] Ahmed, 2006


Ahmed, S. (2006). Queer phenomenology: Orientations, objects, others. Durham, NC: Duke.

Conquergood, D. (2002). Performance studies: Interventions and radical research. The Drama Review 46(2): 145-156.

Haraway, D. (2016). c. Durham, NC: Duke.

Hill Collins, P. & Bilge, S. (2016). Intersectionality. Malden, MA: Polity Press.

Professor Stacy Holman Jones is a writer, director, researcher and educator in the Sir Zelman Cowen School of Music and Performance at Monash University, Australia. Her research focuses on performance as socially, culturally, and politically resistive and transformative activity. She has published more than 100 articles, book chapters, reviews, and editorials and has authored, co-authored and edited 13 books.  Her writing, directing and performance work has been featured at international venues and events including the Storytelling Centre in Edinburgh, Scotland, FEAST Festival in Adelaide, Australia and in conference venues in Australia, New Zealand, the US and Scotland.

More from this issue


By EO Gill — As COVID-19 corrodes our creative industries, I find myself scrambling to identify anything that might signal

Read More +
What’s the point?

By Dr Julia Prendergast — Jared Diamond asked the acclaimed evolutionary biologist Ernst Mayr (1904-2005) why Aristotle didn’t come up

Read More +

More from this issue

By Alejandra Canales and Susan Danta — It is truly an honour and privilege to collaborate with NiTRO to co-edit an edition on the topic of Collaboration and Authorship. The ideas for this topic grow out of a lecture series within the capstone subject in the Master of Arts: Screen at Australian Film Television and Radio School (AFTRS).
By Associate Professor Cathy Henkel and Isabel Turner — Diverse and equitable representation, both on and off screen, is the subject of considerable debate in the screen industry sector. Screen Australia’s Seeing Ourselves report (2016) was a milestone study in representation on screen and prompted the formation of Screen Australia’s Equity and Inclusion Strategy and multiple state and industry initiatives to foster a culture of inclusive story-telling.
By Dr Romaine Moreton — Indigenous media production at the cultural interface is the ancient application of what is already known, an accumulation of knowledges gained through throughout millennia for the purpose of producing and reproducing Indigenous values of balance, harmony, and sustainability.
By Associate Professor Sue Joseph — My first experience of a university ethics committee was as a candidate in the latter days of my doctorate, investigating voicelessness and the media. I was a new academic, teaching into the journalism school.
By Associate Professor Beata Batorowicz and Dr Linda Clark — Women-artists often encounter a “double-bind” which involves an irreconcilable social demand of being “too much or not enough” within their personal lives and professional careers (Catalyst 2007; Williams 2018). The pressures of juggling family responsibilities and career are further exacerbated by making this undertaking appear effortless, with this overall set up leading to never being “good enough.”
By Dr Karen Pearlman — Film industries have poor records of treatment, opportunities, and recognition of women (see Loist & Verhoeven 2019). The Screen Australia media release on Gender Matters of 15/10/2020 states that “we aren’t seeing enough meaningful change in the sector”. It calls for “cultural change” to address the gender equity issues in the screen industries.
By Dr Kath Dooley, Associate Professor Marsha Berry, Margaret McHugh, Professor Craig Batty and Professor James Verdon — In recent years, cultural movements such as #metoo and #OscarsSoWhite have drawn attention to low levels of diversity on screen and behind the camera in the global screen industries.
By Pearl Tan — The push for diversity in many arenas is stronger than ever. In higher education, one way this can manifest, is in higher numbers of students from diverse backgrounds. With more diverse student cohorts, it’s certain that teachers will encounter students who are telling stories from cultures that we do not have lived experience of or are intimately familiar with.
By EO Gill — As COVID-19 corrodes our creative industries, I find myself scrambling to identify anything that might signal a brighter future. At the same time, I am wary of pandemic-born states of panic, since rapid-response initiatives often work to further disenfranchise already vulnerable members of the arts community.
By Dr Julia Prendergast — Jared Diamond asked the acclaimed evolutionary biologist Ernst Mayr (1904-2005) why Aristotle didn’t come up with the theory of evolution. Mayr’s answer was “Frage stellen” which Diamond translates as “a way of asking questions [sic]” (Byrne 2013).
By Anna Tow and Deborah Turnbull Tillman — In a world where there is daily anxiety around the economy, our health and public engagement, we offer a pedagogy that promotes resilience, self-reliance and employability. As Collaborator, Deborah Turnbull Tillman is curator concerned with disrupting conventional process and situating her students as expert in their own practice rather than as subjects within hierarchical models of curating.
By Rowan Woods and Dr Duncan McLean — Film school programs are only useful to students and industry if attention is paid to the winds of change surrounding screen authorship.