Ph D Seminar: Nonhuman Performativity: Theories, Practices, Methodologies

! NEW DATES: check the program below

In recent decades a non-human turn has emerged within the humanities (Grusin, ed. 2015). Attention for the nonhuman world and nonhuman (f)actors is growing in various disciplines and research domains. This growing intellectual attention for the non-human is on the one hand a reaction to current ecological and technological developments, and on the other hand it stems from a dissatisfaction with humanist thinking and the representative or linguistic turn that dominated the human sciences at the end of the 20th century (Grusin, 2015: x). The various currents and theories that are part of the non-human turn (e.g. New Materialism [Barad 2007, Bennett 2010, Coole and Frost, eds. 2010, Dolphijn en van der Tuin 2012], speculative realism [Graham 2002 and 2010, Bogost 2012, Morton 2013]), animal studies [Haraway 2003, Despret 2012], or post-humanism [Haraway 1991, Hayles 1999, Wolfe 2010]) oppose the dominance of humanist or anthropocentric ideas in the humanities and science, and instead focus on the theorization of non-human entities, processes and capacity for action and performativity.

The most recent developments within the non-human turn also focus, among other things, on the end of human life on earth as a result of the ecological catastrophe that is unfolding. In the geological era of the anthropocene, the earth system and the ecological reality, but also on the entanglement of that system and that reality with technological and political issues. Extinction (Grusin 2018, Ten Bos 2019), spectrality and absence (Tsing 2017), the end of worlds (Danowski and Viveiros de Castro 2016) and death (Despret 2015) are key concepts of a performativity that no longer produces anything or may lead to a relationship with a void and finitude.

The shifts referred to as the non-human turn, however, do not only take place within the academic world, but also in (interaction with) the current artistic world. Within the performing arts, cinema, the visual arts and literature, there is just as much increased attention for the presence and the agency of non-human (f)actors - both during the creation process and in the subjects that are dealt with in these art works.

This Ph D Seminar, linked to a public lecture series, examines the theoretical, artistic and methodological questions, approaches and consequences of the nonhuman turn. We will do so from various angles, as the nonhuman turn requires an interdisciplinary approach in the fields of visual arts, performance, theatre, choreography, literature, media and philosophy. Each month a specialist is invited to offer a seminar and give a lecture about their perspective on the nonhuman turn. Ecology, dramaturgy, atmosphere, animism, contemporary dance, performance of technology... will all come the fore during this year-long cycle.

The 'Nonhuman Performavity: Theories, Practices and Methodologies' seminar is hosted by Antwerp University (funded by OJO, Antwerp Doctoral School and the  Department of Literature) and is a collaboration with Ghent University's Studies in Performing Arts and Media (S:PAM) and KULeuven's research group Literary Theory and Cultural Studies

The seminar is open to all Ph D, post-doctoral and artistic researchers, as well as other interested parties.

All of the sessions from October on will take place via digital platforms unless indicated otherwise. For registration, access to the reading materials and questions, contact Kristof van Baarle:

Program (past dates below)

January 2021: Maaike Bleeker (Utrecht University)


17h30-19h: Lecture by Maaike Bleeker

'Spectators Called to Thought: Theatrical Performance as Thought Apparatus'

In Meeting the Universe Halfway, Karen Barad observes that “(knowing is) a distributed practice that includes the larger material arrangement. To the extent that humans participate in scientific or other practices of knowing, they do so as part of the larger material configuration of the world and its ongoing open-ended articulation" (Barad, 2007, p. 379). Taking Barad’s observations on entanglement as a general condition of existence to the heart, I will argue for an understanding of human thinking as similarly happening in a condition of entanglement with the material world, and as fundamentally performative. I will do so in dialogue with a selection of artistic performances and installations that I propose to understand as thought-apparatuses. My aim is twofold. On the one hand I want to show how approaching these artistic works as thought-apparatuses shows how we may conceive of them as material arrangements that present a call to thought and engage spectators in practices of thinking. On the other hand, my aim is to explore how thus understood, theatrical performance may contribute to fleshing out an understanding of thinking as something in which the human and the nonhuman are inextricably intertwined. Barad points to  importance of insights in performativity as developed in social sciences and humanities, yet she does not look at the knowledge and expertise embodied in the arts and in artistic performance. It seems to me that much is to be gained from a closer look at contemporary practices of staging and mise-en-scene as instances of thinking in which humans participate as part of larger material discursive configurations.

Maaike Bleeker is professor in Theatre Studies in the Department of Media & Culture Studies. In her work she combines approaches from the arts and performance with insights from philosophy, media theory and cognitive science. Much of her research focuses on processes of embodied and technologically mediated perception and transmission, with a special interest in the relationship between technology, movement and embodied perception and cognition. Current research subjects include social robotics, spectacular astronomy and the intersection of performance studies and space studies, posthuman performativity, corporeal literacy, digital archiving of artistic work, and artistic creation processes. Recent publications include: Transmission in Motion -The Technologizing of Dance (2016) en Thinking Through Theatre and Performance (with Adrian Kear, Joe Kelleher and Heike Roms, 2019).


10h-13h: Seminar by Maaike Bleeker. Required reading: 

  • ​Chapter 5 from Freddie Rokem Philosophers & Thespians. Thinking Performance. Stanford: Stanford UP, 2010. P. 141-176.
  • ​Chapter 5 from Michael Marder. Plant Thinking. A Philosophy of Vegetal Life. New York: Columbia UP, 2013. P.151-178.

RSVP by sending an e-mail to


January 2020


10u-12u: Preparatory reading session (UAntwerp, ‘T Brandtijser, Room S.SJ.117)

  • Artaud: Theatre and the Plague
  • Carl Lavery: Rethinking the Dérive


11u-16u (lunch break 13u-14u): seminar with Carl Lavery (UAntwerp, ‘T Brandtijser, Room S.SJ.117)

  • Carl Lavery: Introduction: performance and ecology: what can theatre do?
  • Carl Lavery: Theatricality and Drifting in the Anthropocene:  Reading Asger Jorn and Guy Debord’s Mémoires as ‘earth book’.
  • Félix Guattari: The Three Ecologies

17u30-19u: Lecture by Carl Lavery (location ‘t Brandtijser, Room S.SJ.022)

'Interrogating the human: ecology, theatre and theatricality'

In this lecture, I will outline a conceptual framework for doing 'theatre ecology', in which I focus on the interplay of 4 key terms that are often assumed in the critical literature but, as I show, are in need of further qualification and unpacking: the human, ecology, theatre and theatricality. By doing so, I outline a new history for theatre ecology that is attuned to the aesthetics, politics and aesthetics of post-Artaudian theatre. I start with Artaud in this history, for he is the first theatre practitioner of the twentieth century to tie what I call 'the interrogation of the human' to a theatre rooted in and committed to the 'earth' and its systems.

Carl Lavery is a Professor of Theatre at the University of Glasgow. He has written numerous books and articles on theatre and ecology, including: a special edition of Performance Research ‘On Animism’ (2019) (with Mischa Twitchen); Performance and Ecology: What Can Theatre Do (2018); and Rethinking the Theatre of the Absurd: Ecology, Environment and the Greening of the Modern Stage (2015). He has also made the following films and performance about bodies, performance and landscape: Drifting with Debord (2019; with David Archibald) and Return to Battleship Island (2013; with Lee Hassall). He is currently working on a 2 volume book project: Theatre and the Earth: Interrogating the Human; and Constellations of the Anthropocene. Both look to advance a new theory of theatricality and ecology.



10u-12u: Preparatory reading session (UAntwerp, ‘T Brandtijser, Room S.SJ.117)

  • Timothy Morton: Dark Ecology, First Thread
  • Richard Grusin: the Nonhuman turn: introduction


11u-16u: Seminar with Peter Eckersall (UAntwerp, ‘T Brantijser, Room S.SJ.214)

  • Peter Eckersall: On dramaturgy to make visible
  • Chris Salter: Alien Agency: Part 3, section 6 and 7: Athmospheres unveiled – technologies of the senses

17u30-19u: Lecture by Peter Eckersall (location ‘t Brantijser, Room S.SJ115)

‘Rock, ice and when the stage melts.’

In this paper I revisit and update the idea of ‘slow dramaturgy’ (Eckersall and Paterson, 2011) in relation to contemporary scholarship, performance and installation arts in the ecocritical sphere. Our idea, published in an essay from 2011, was a response to some of the then newly emerging trends in performance that showed a more dispersed and ambient dramaturgical approach to the production of live work. We suggested that slow dramaturgy was a way understanding theatre as intrinsically connected to themes of ecology, slow time and the awareness of environmental forces.

Here, through the discussion and analysis of Kris Verdonck’s ‘Detail ‘(2019), Alexis Destoop’s ‘Northern Drift’ (2020) and Okada Toshiki’s ‘God Bless Baseball’ (2015), I revisit our theorization to explore slowness and elasticity in climate events and politics of climate. We want to rethink our relations of power with atmospheres, and ‘natural elements’ –ice, water and rock. I explore how performances of this kind make visible the materiality of Earth elements, in this case the mineral formations of rock and ice, and how critical intersections with Timothy Morton’s ‘dark ecology’, Isabelle Stengers ‘slow science’ and Rob Nixon’s ‘slow violence’, suggest that slow dramaturgy can be situated explicitly in relation to temporal and spatial fluctuations brought about by an age of extremes.

Peter Eckersall is professor of theatre studies at the Graduate Center, City University of New York and is an honorary professorial fellow at the University of Melbourne. His research interests include Japanese performance, dramaturgy and theatre and politics. Recent publications include: The Routledge Companion to Theatre and Politics, co-edited with Helena Grehan (Routledge, 2019), New Media Dramaturgy: Performance, media and new-materialism, co-authored with Helena Grehan and Ed Scheer (Palgrave, 2017) and Performativity and Event in 1960s Japan (Palgrave, 2013). He has worked as a dramaturg for more than thirty years and is the co-founder of the Not Yet It’s Difficult performance group based in Melbourne. 

October: VP Invites Martina Ruhsam


    17u30 – 19u30: Lecture by Martina Ruhsam (online)

    'The Entanglement of Matter & Meaning: Barad’s Agential Realism and Recent Choreographic Experiments'

    Agential Realism is trying to think the intra-actions of human and nonhuman actors/actants as well as of the material and the discoursive as an ongoing reconfiguration of the real and the possible, whereby agency is detatched from its traditional humanist orbit. In my lecture I will reflect on the Agential Realism as developed by the feminist Karen Barad and its relevance for contemporary choreographic experiments that investigate the relations between human and nonhuman bodies. I will consider artistic attempts to stage a certain autonomy of objects. What is the political and ecological potential that these experiments imply?

    Martina Ruhsam is a writer, lecturer and artist. Since 2016 she is a teaching and research assistant in the MA-programme „Choreography and Performance“ at the Institute for Applied Theatre Studies at Justus-Liebig-University in Gießen (Germany). From 2006 until 2017 Martina Ruhsam realised numerous performances, interventions, transmedial projects and artistic collaborations (primarily with Vlado G. Repnik) that were presented in various venues in Europe. In 2011 her monography „Kollaborative Praxis: Choreographie“ was published by Turia + Kant. Martina Ruhsam has been giving lectures about choreography and related philosophical and sociopolitical issues internationally. Recently she completed a PhD about non-human bodies in contemporary choreographies.


    11u-16u: seminar with Martina Ruhsam: Required reading:

    • Martina Ruhsam: The Comeback of Objects, Maska Journal
    • Karen Barad: Posthumanist performativity. Toward an Understanding of how Matter comes to Matter

December: VP Invites Kyoko Iwaki 


            17h30 -19h: Lecture by Kyoko Iwaki

            'Phantom Catastrophe: Performing Digital Ghosts between Living and Non-Living'

            As the Fukushima disaster was the first ever computer-mediated nuclear catastrophe in history, the aftermath and repercussions extended beyond the physical reality and were amplified in the             digital space. Owing to the invisible quality of the radioactive fallout, dark imaginations in the infosphere aggravated and aggregated into what could be called a “phantom realty”: visually absent             yet affectively omnipresent. By referring to the dramaturgies of digital performances argued by scholars such as Steve Dixon, Chris Salter, Philip Auslander, Sarah Bay-Cheng, and Peter             Eckersall, and combining them with the ghostly dramaturgy of butoh and nō theatre, I argue in this chapter how performance artist Takeuchi Kōta and Okada Toshiki developed a dramaturgy of             phantoms in which the subject needs to be both embodied and mediated to exist either on the digital platform or the physical stage. 

            Kyoko Iwaki is a Lecturer of Theatre and Performance Studies at University of Antwerp. Her research focuses on Japanese and European theatre of nonhuman philosophy with a strong             investment in Buddhism.


            10h -13h: Seminar by Kyoko Iwaki. Required Reading: 

  • Miriam Felton-Dansky, Viral Performance, Northwestern University Press, 2018: Introduction
  • Sarah Bay-Cheng, 'When this you see: The (anti) radical time of mobile self-surveillance', in Performance Research, 19:3, 2014, pp. 48-55