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The political dimension of dance : Mouffe's theory of agonism and choreography

Goran Petrovic Lotina UGent (2017) Performing antagonism : theatre, performance and radical democracy. In Performance Philosophy p.251-272
abstract
This article explores the political dimension of contemporary dance, focussing on the theory of agonism as it is developed by the political theorist Chantal Mouffe. Contrary to other models of agonism, Mouffe's work is constructed around a definition of agonism that implies a certain degree of antagonism that can never be eliminated. This view explains that agonism (a we/they relation in which the two sides are adversaries) is always threatened by antagonism (a we/they relation in which the two sides are enemies). Given that 'the task of democracy is to transform antagonism into agonism', I will argue that Mouffe's agonistic model of democratic politics enables the possibility of understanding how art, and dance in particular, is able to contest and transform the dominant politics, its hegemonic institutions, sedimented social practices and prevailing representations that mobilise antagonistic relations. Once we have acknowledged that antagonism is inherent to every social construction, we must recognise that the articulatory power of dance manifests within the context of counter-hegemonic struggle. It is precisely a continuous struggle between complying and contesting forces, between hegemonic and counter-hegemonic forces, that enables a dynamic, transforming and creative power of dance. It is here that the political dimension of art is constituted. In order to support this argument, I will first turn to the quasi-transcendental philosophical trajectory developed by the French philosopher, Jacques Derrida, before then turning to examine post-foundational politico-philosophical thought, which emphasises the indispensable moment of exclusion in the construction of any social practice, and the dimension of the impossibility of absolute foundation or grounding. This is of particular relevance to Mouffe's agonistic model of democratic politics which proposes the disarticulation and transformation of dominant socio-political discourses around we/they relations. For Mouffe, democratic politics begins by acknowledging, rather than suppressing, antagonistic relations within the practice of hegemony. Insight into Mouffe's political theory provides the basis for revealing the political dimension of art and, moreover, will permit an understanding of it in terms of counter-hegemonic struggle. In the final section, I will envisage dance practice from these philosophical and political standpoints with the aim of articulating choreography in relation to the sphere of contestation such that it may be understood to contribute to the transformation of democracy and society as a whole. In this regard, what I will be calling agonistic encounters and agonistic objectifications in dance performances will be the articulation of partial and contesting systems of relations allowing different realities to be materialised in the same space.
Please use this url to cite or link to this publication:
author
organization
year
type
bookChapter
publication status
published
subject
keyword
choreography, political, quasi-transcendence, post-foundationalism, Mouffe, agonistic pluralism, materialism, discourse, antagonism, hegemony, objectification, dance
book title
Performing antagonism : theatre, performance and radical democracy
editor
Tony Fisher and Eva Katsouraki
series title
Performance Philosophy
pages
251 - 272
publisher
Palgrave Macmillan
ISBN
978-1-349-95099-7
DOI
10.1057/978-1-349-95100-0
language
English
UGent publication?
no
classification
B2
copyright statement
I have transferred the copyright for this publication to the publisher
id
5951366
handle
http://hdl.handle.net/1854/LU-5951366
date created
2015-05-07 12:38:54
date last changed
2017-10-24 06:28:41
@incollection{5951366,
  abstract     = {This article explores the political dimension of contemporary dance, focussing on the theory of agonism as it is developed by the political theorist Chantal Mouffe. Contrary to other models of agonism, Mouffe's work is constructed around a definition of agonism that implies a certain degree of antagonism that can never be eliminated. This view explains that agonism (a we/they relation in which the two sides are adversaries) is always threatened by antagonism (a we/they relation in which the two sides are enemies). Given that 'the task of democracy is to transform antagonism into agonism', I will argue that Mouffe's agonistic model of democratic politics enables the possibility of understanding how art, and dance in particular, is able to contest and transform the dominant politics, its hegemonic institutions, sedimented social practices and prevailing representations that mobilise antagonistic relations. Once we have acknowledged that antagonism is inherent to every social construction, we must recognise that the articulatory power of dance manifests within the context of counter-hegemonic struggle. It is precisely a continuous struggle between complying and contesting forces, between hegemonic and counter-hegemonic forces, that enables a dynamic, transforming and creative power of dance. It is here that the political dimension of art is constituted. 

In order to support this argument, I will first turn to the quasi-transcendental philosophical trajectory developed by the French philosopher, Jacques Derrida, before then turning to examine post-foundational politico-philosophical thought, which emphasises the indispensable moment of exclusion in the construction of any social practice, and the dimension of the impossibility of absolute foundation or grounding. This is of particular relevance to Mouffe's agonistic model of democratic politics which proposes the disarticulation and transformation of dominant socio-political discourses around we/they relations. For Mouffe, democratic politics begins by acknowledging, rather than suppressing, antagonistic relations within the practice of hegemony. Insight into Mouffe's political theory provides the basis for revealing the political dimension of art and, moreover, will permit an understanding of it in terms of counter-hegemonic struggle. In the final section, I will envisage dance practice from these philosophical and political standpoints with the aim of articulating choreography in relation to the sphere of contestation such that it may be understood to contribute to the transformation of democracy and society as a whole. In this regard, what I will be calling agonistic encounters and agonistic objectifications in dance performances will be the articulation of partial and contesting systems of relations allowing different realities to be materialised in the same space.},
  author       = {Petrovic Lotina, Goran},
  booktitle    = {Performing antagonism : theatre, performance and radical democracy},
  editor       = {Fisher , Tony  and Katsouraki , Eva },
  isbn         = {978-1-349-95099-7},
  keyword      = {choreography,political,quasi-transcendence,post-foundationalism,Mouffe,agonistic pluralism,materialism,discourse,antagonism,hegemony,objectification,dance},
  language     = {eng},
  pages        = {251--272},
  publisher    = {Palgrave Macmillan },
  series       = {Performance Philosophy},
  title        = {The political dimension of dance : Mouffe's theory of agonism and choreography},
  url          = {http://dx.doi.org/10.1057/978-1-349-95100-0},
  year         = {2017},
}

Chicago
Petrovic Lotina, Goran. 2017. “The Political Dimension of Dance : Mouffe’s Theory of Agonism and Choreography.” In Performing Antagonism : Theatre, Performance and Radical Democracy, ed. Tony Fisher and Eva Katsouraki , 251–272. Palgrave Macmillan .
APA
Petrovic Lotina, G. (2017). The political dimension of dance : Mouffe’s theory of agonism and choreography. In T. Fisher & E. Katsouraki (Eds.), Performing antagonism : theatre, performance and radical democracy (pp. 251–272). Palgrave Macmillan .
Vancouver
1.
Petrovic Lotina G. The political dimension of dance : Mouffe’s theory of agonism and choreography. In: Fisher T, Katsouraki E, editors. Performing antagonism : theatre, performance and radical democracy. Palgrave Macmillan ; 2017. p. 251–72.
MLA
Petrovic Lotina, Goran. “The Political Dimension of Dance : Mouffe’s Theory of Agonism and Choreography.” Performing Antagonism : Theatre, Performance and Radical Democracy. Ed. Tony Fisher & Eva Katsouraki . Palgrave Macmillan , 2017. 251–272. Print.