Johannes Fabian’s (1990) celebrated Power and performance tells the story of how an inquiry into the meaning of a proverb led to the development and performance of a piece of theatre. During a meal with some of his local friends and informants in Shaba, Congo, Fabian was offered a piece of chicken; when he insisted that it should be divided and shared with others, the answer he got was “le pouvoir se mange entier”. Sensing that he picked up a proverb—something articulating a deep cultural semantics—Fabian shifted into his anthropologist mode and asked what the proverb actually meant. The answer could not be given in simple conversation, and his friends/informants (members of a local theatre troupe) argued that the best way of explaining the complex sociocultural meanings of the saying would be a play, with a plot and characters, various scenes and storylines, and a punchline. The play was developed, staged, and eventually even broadcasted on TV. Power and performance tells the story of how theatre emerged out of an inquiry into sociocultural meaning.
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