Choreographies of Protest Performance:
3. The Signification of Movement
Motivated by the understanding that perception is an ontology of images, this essay concerns itself with movement image vis-à-vis memory image in the situating, interpretation and construction of movement through framing schema. Using the example of non-cooperation and subsequent generation of an injustice frame by an affinity group displaying ideal behaviour as a rebuttal to bodies which disrupt the somatic dialogue between bodies established in choreographies of protest such as protest performance, this essay continues to make an argument for the primacy of movement by illustrating how it is given linguistic form after the fact of its occurrence. Memory images, as a form of structured movements, may become actual in duration, but it is most probable that spontaneous movement will be qualified, in effect, to signify movement via a discursive articulation of the encounter.
In Bergson’s (2002) Matter and Memory, the corpus of perception is an ontology of images such as an image of space- time, movement image and, in what follows, consideration will be given to memory image etc. As movement image comes into being due to bodily memory orientating the nervous system, it follows that a focus on what the body does should be informed by images of what the body has done. Thus, an emerging instance of protest performance is often linked to an image of other bodies becoming protestor in previous protest events as the just occurring protest becomes represented as part of a historical pattern through the employment of a frame (Fischer-Litche: 2008; Jolaosho: 2013; Hughes: 2007).
This makes it possible to compare and contrast the just occurring movement image [its particularity] to the memory image of its generality. A frame is a schemata of interpretation participants use to “simplify and condense the world” (Kubal: 1998; Mooney & Hunt: 1996; Snow & Benford: 1992: 137; Swart: 1995). Most political actors are said to borrow a combination of master frames which serve as the blueprint on how to articulate preferences and interests as they contain a variety of strategies which have been used by other aggrieved groups who have made claims in the public sphere (Tarrow: 1993). In their application, frames can amplify a grievance, “distinguish ‘us’ and ‘them’ from opponents and bystanders” and corral adherents and constituents towards collective action (Polletta & Jasper, 2001: 291). They do this by diagnosing an issue or situation as justifying a particular response, imputing blame and illustrating causality, encouraging certain strategies and tactics, and developing compelling reasons for action (Snow and Benford,1992: 137).
When the body is in motion “movements are recalled not only as discrete actions, but as sequences of action that have progressed through time” (Moore & Yamamoto, 2012: 27). The ways in which memory image structures space can be understood via the Moulard-Leonard (2008) interpretation of Bergson and Deleuze which proposes that memory is the preservation of the past in the present. Since it has been argued that it is through memory images that relations of encounter become shaped and it would follow then that the ability of the body to listen to other bodies and respond to them in ways that continue somatic dialogue is premised on a prior exposure to cultural images which delineate the conventions of contact (Ahmed:2004; Gunner: 2008). Thus, there is the continuity of past conventions in performing being ‘in place’ as performance of the just emerging resemble, interpret, and legitimate the conventions of the past.
Memory images insert themselves in the duration of spontaneous movements to not only ensure that certain affects stick to certain bodies, but in situating bodily responses (Ahmed: 2004; Wetherell: 2012). Following the memory image of the body in protest would suggest that the body’s capacity to hear the rhythm of song is correlated to cultural and learning processes which give meaning to an event of protest.
In describing movement on dancehall nights in Kingston, Jamaica, Henriques (2011: 6; 21) argues that
…a session does not consist of only the physical bodies that make up a crowd, but further in the knowledge, understanding, appreciation, sensitivity and expectations that they bring with them. It is within the sociocultural waveband that Dancehall culture has meaning and significance for its participants.
Memory image functions like a structural image of place; ordering relations according to their historical pattern as antecedent ways of moving, for instance, on the dancefloor insert themselves in the duration of dancehall to inform the sequence of actions which signify an appropriate dance move, lingo and modes of dress (Henriques: 2011).
Whereas memory, as a structured form of movement, is important in locating the nature, significance and implications of a somatic event, it does so after the fact of movement – in the efforts to understand and ground affect through a socio-linguistic investment in the universes of discourse which are available. In the performance of conventions of contact or the antecedent ways of moving in space, space is also relational as “people are positioned by the actions of others” (Low, 2008: 35). In what follows there is consideration of the contact and connection directing the flow of movement and then subsequently the application of memory images to signify the movement into a discursive articulation of the encounter.
On ‘somatic communication’, there has been the argument that contact and connections become a preferred protest affinity and in the face of attempts to separate protestors, many resist removal from an occupied space by law enforcement officers by employing the release technique of “going limp” (Goldman: 2007). During the technique of going limp, the protest participant refuses to give in and instead “relaxes the body in a kind of physical non- cooperation with the situation so that he or she has to be dragged or carried to wherever authorities want him” (Oppenheimer & Lakey, 1954: 107). Non-cooperation is an act, in response to the reach and physical contact of law enforcement officers, through which protest performers are both active and passive as they negotiate how they will enter into communication with other bodies. In acts of resistance, whereas the two bodies remain in contact, there is a self-preservation which refuses to be ‘out of place’ again in performing an act of resistance to being in accordance with the pre-performance conventions of place which are being ordered by the intervention of the law enforcement officer.
Following the performance of non-cooperation, there is often mass information dispersal as the protest performance is narrated by various individuals in passing, in pre-existing networks such as friendship groups, shared on-line, in newspaper articles and becomes a primetime television news feature. Resource mobilization theories have long acknowledged the role of the media in turning student demands into issues of public discussion and oftentimes, this is done through the circulation of an image which captures an act of resistance, such as non-cooperation, and communicates it to a wider audience than the bodies who were physically present in protest (Kershaw: 1997; St John: 2008).
As the power of an image lies in developing content for the contraction or expansion of consciousness (Deleuze & Guattari: 1987), in the circulation and reproduction of an image of non-cooperation, discourses are invoked to connect the just occurring with an image of other bodies becoming protestor in previous protest events. A research participant, Bo, posits that there emerged an importance of reading, in order to make sense of the relations of encounter which emerged during protest performance;
…out of that came the importance of reading. Reading up about.. People started picking up Fanon at the time.
In the instance of the non-cooperation relation of encounter, the circulation of its image by oral traditions and the media is brought together with a schema with which to perceive the exchange between “go limpers” and law enforcement officers. There was a recurrent claim by research participants to the effect that “university management permitted police officers on university grounds to silence us”. The communication style employed in this reflection not only signals the construction of an injustice frame which imputes blame to a “they” whereas it constructs a “we” as victims of silencing, it is designed to bring together adherents and constituents who identify with the language used to delineate the “we” or who want to be included in the ‘we” (Polleta & Jasper: 2001; Snow et al.: 1986; Zuo & Benford: 1995).
The language, itself, is a performance which is designed to make the content of the frame recognisable and familiar as it capitalises on the historical potency of the circulation and redistribution of memory images and the repertoire of discursive interpretations available (Gamson: 1992; Kubal: 1998; Swart:1995).
Further interruptions to protest performance enter the geographies of inclusion and exclusion which internalise and externalise certain actions within the parameters of “we” and “they”. During protest performance, it was common cause that a bystander would ask why the participants have gathered, and then provide compelling reasons for the participants to utilise other means of communication besides protest performance. Often without prior deliberation, the protest performers, in unison, would sing over and employ gestures, such as the quick flick of the wrist away from the collective body pointing the officious bystander to a far-away distance. The bystander deposition functions as a divergence from the ideal behaviours embodied and shared by the collective body displaying internal contact and connection and exerting acts of resistance to external bodies. As a rebuttal to bystander depositions, some bystanders became signified as “not being woke” whereas the collective body in protest performance is “woke” through spacing. Spacing is:
The positioning of social goods and primarily symbolic markings in order to render ensembles of goods and people recognised as such. Secondly, the constitution of space requires synthesis, that is to say, goods and people are connected to form through processes of perception, ideation and recall (Low, 2008: 35).
‘Being woke’ is which grew in popularity from its usage in the American #BlackLivesMatter movement and according to Ashlee et al. (2017: 90-91), becoming woke is defined as “articulating the system’s existence, informed by the experience of those occupying the margins, the narratives of the outsiders who are inside and a form of survival”. The phrase is commonly used on social media platforms as a presentation of the political self which functions as a social currency in its recognition or rejection by other actors (Kubal: 1998). According to Amie, a research participant, the frame alignment of being woke within the categories of “they” and “we” signified that certain bodies were not welcomed;
It sort of becomes… an echo chamber… I found that if you don’t talk the talk, you’re not really welcomed – Amie
From this reflection, it could be inferred that space occupied by woke people cannot be inhibited by people who are not woke as those who are not woke become viewed as ‘out of place’ in protest performance. The collective identity of woke people is both a style of protest and a strategy of protest (Polletta & Jasper: 2001). In activism literature, there is the notion that individuals become activists as a result of being in a network that seeks to recognise and legitimate pre-existing identities, but a network can emerge amongst a group of individuals who display “ideal behaviour” in how they enter into communication with ‘othered’ bodies, and in their construction of ‘othered’ bodies (Angrosino: 2012; Jasper: 1998; McAdam: 1986).
Speech acts not only illustrate the way othered bodies are perceived, but mediate the investment made in the somatic dialogue between bodies by privileging certain attitudinal dispositions as desirable. In so doing, speech acts create an affinity network, often referred to as “a small cluster of like-minded protestors”, who are entrusted with making decisions, devising strategies and articulating the interests and preferences of the movement to outsiders (Foster, 2003: 403). An affinity network is comprised of networks of solidarity and reciprocity which have already been recruited into activism via choreographies of protest, who have a recent intense history of engagement in somatic dialogues during protest performance, and it is in spacing that the fact of their existence becomes legitimated through a repertoire of interpretations utilising the available discourses.
Although in “How to do things with words”, and “Affective Economies”, both Austin (1962) and Ahmed (2004) respectively argue that speech acts mobilise bodies, in this instance of the generation of an injustice frame and the formation of a network of like-minded individuals, speech acts emerge after the movement of bodies and their function is to organize movement into codes which define the parameters of being and belonging. In the organization of codes, there is then the spread of information and influence which can be attributed to the subsequent transformation in the perception of movement in space and memory images (Granovetter: 1973).
An evaluation of how protestors enter into communication with othered bodies and their linguistic construction of othered bodies illustrates that collective identity is contingent on its recognition or repudiation by both bystanders and actors in protest for ideal behaviour is agreed upon in response to the bystander deposition (Melucci: 1995). Moreover, the response to the othered bodies signals that, for the participants, being in physical proximity is a preferred interest as the construction of othered bodies as not being woke is an attempt to latch on to the intensity of protest which has just been interrupted.
With networks and collective identity emerging after the fact of movement in physical space, there is reason to believe that body-to-body interactions are the glue which holds protest performers together, for once stasis has been brought to movement via othered bodies or schemas of representation, the somatic dialogue depreciates and eventually comes to an end and with its departure the vibes and atmospheres of protest disappear. In sum, the becoming actual of potential is prior to being as through signification, spontaneous movement is filtered into categories of ideal and not being ideal behaviours of wokeness. However, the abstraction of ideal behaviour from initially spontaneous movement represses the proliferation of multiplicities and it returns creativity of movement forms back to the structure they escaped from.
When the body in motion is positioned as a sign of agency in relation to the imposition of structure in norms, rules and regulations and laws about ‘being in place’, it becomes clear that the movement under consideration is not just any movement; it is the type of movement that breaks away from structure by becoming liminal and performative. There is a break with the previous context of monotonous repetition, which characterises striated space by the creativity of movement. The difference before and after in space-time images is accomplished as the structure responds, or accommodates to the change created by the emergence of performative and liminal movement-images. Space is then imagined as an effect of the relation between disorder and structure; a social space which is imagined through enacted and articulated discourses about the movement of bodies.
In any encounter, there is a somatic communication between bodies through which bodies listen and receive the frequencies of other bodies, make sense and then subsequently follow through with movement, or bodies initiate movement which is then sensed, listened to and received by other bodies. Once established, through repeated somatic dialogue, contact and connection can become a preferred protest affinity which protest performers seek to sustain, which when interrupted, leads protest performers to generate an evaluation of the bodies speaking a different language than the one just constituted in the categories of signification which include and exclude certain bodies. Thus, a frame of resonance and a network of collective actors emerge to signify a prior somatic communication which differentiated bodies in the duration of protest performance.
Whereas movement will always be ontologically prior to schemas of representation as representation is resorted to capture duration, the articulation of that opening in space-time is the notation of difference. It is, above all else, the only way in which what has since disappeared back into striated space can become known and thus, when performance disappears, it can be made relevant by the language which articulates the encounter. Moreover, it is not merely a convention of the times that becomings are captured and codified, it is to interpret, interrogate and negotiate beings. The two are in a reciprocal relationship, which when expressed in the dualism of thought that is post-structuralism, blurs the lines as to who the audience and the performer are in the quality and intensity of an experience. In the actualization of potential, there is the expansion of consciousness from which beings derive a vocabulary with which to articulate their beingness. The relationship between movement of intensity and the qualification of intensity doesn’t have to be in opposition to each other as the Massumian reading of Deleuze suggests, but could be viewed as mutually beneficial for the turn to linguistic schemata to make sense of the emergence of movement implies that the fact of movement has created a gap in signification.
To begin with, viewing instances of protest as performance has been informed by participants, who claimed, on numerous occasions that they found protest entertaining and this was interesting as a majority of accounts on student activism begin with anger and discontent about a grievance, the articulation of that grievance and the aggression which springs out from a desire to legitimate that initial grievance (Parviainen: 2010). This is not to say that protest performers did not have grievances or to downplay the importance of grievances in moving bodies, but many research participants resonated with grievances that emerged during the protest cycle and for them, it was easier to realise grievances during protest than prior to protest. Although, their initial recruitment occurred haphazardly, their investment in choreographies of protest became an opening through which they could realise grievances. In utilising Laban’s (1971) ladder of abstraction, it becomes possible to isolate movement in response to the politics of performance which argue that the appearance of performance is also its disappearance and the observations of protest performance and the choreographies of protest are selected over others because those actions were repeated on numerous occasions, and thus their selection is to say, they are typical of the phenomenon studied.
The ontological shift in the approach to phenomena, which is based on the revival of the philosophy of difference and repetition, is deemed valid, but Massumi’s complex relationship with psychoanalysis made Thrift’s epistemological orientation more practical, as the application of the autonomy of affect was found to be difficult at best and impossible at worst. In this improvisation of the theory of affect, the application chosen reflects a theory of becoming which assembles practices and performances. Through performance and liminal transgressions, there was the creation of difference – difference in space, difference in how actors perceive themselves and are perceived by others. The velocity of this complex process of becoming actual, of movement from potential, has led many to view it as automatic and non- conscious and for this thesis, it is admired for organising relations between bodies from what, ostensibly, is spontaneous movement and thus creating order from disorder.
In response to a historiography that views protest performers as agitated irrational individuals who are under the influence of framing schemata, this thesis has made claims about how bodies enter into conversation with other bodies in passive and active becomings, movements, gestures and postures away from theories of an irrational crowd which subverts the available dispute resolution mechanisms. It could then be argued that the spontaneity of protest repertoires do not stem from an impetus to subvert the available and institutionalised dispute resolution mechanisms, but it is a product of the negotiation of affect which is resolved in the duration of song before and beyond the intentions of actors.
This thesis is of the opinion that movement of the body is a somatic event of perception and only in the coding of that perception into a vocabulary which employs categories of signification, which include some bodies and exclude others, does a frame of resonance emerge. The frame is performative in giving a sense of being and belonging to those it includes, while othering those it excludes. Somatic dialogue is imagined as the glue holding participants together through norms of reciprocity, such as the exchange of gestures and postures, which bodies invest in through the creation of difference as unity. All three of the preceding essays are carried by one central theme grounding Massumi’s (2002) Parables of The Virtual; there is a sensation, movement and the formation of perception.
To answer the research question… ‘what can be said about the role of affect in the re- emergence of student activism in the historically white institution named Rhodes University in South Africa?’
– It could be said that recruitment to activism can be about going with the rhythm of song and flow of movement during an uncertain and ambiguous moment.
– In response to earlier accounts about a group of political actors being held together as a network of outrage, individuals in protest become invested in the contact and connections which bind them and the intensity of the somatic dialogue between actors becomes a preferred protest affinity for the actors in protest performance.
– Categories of signification emerge to delineate othered bodies and as a rebuttal to othered bodies after the fact of movement in choreographies of protest performance such as an occupation
– Connections and contact are the glue that holds a group of actors together for once stasis has been brought to movement via reversion to structural order or schemas of representation, the somatic dialogue depreciates and eventually comes to an end and with its departure the vibes and atmospheres of protest disappear.