Dance Research Journal


Foucault's Turn From Phenomenology: Implications for Dance Studies

Sally Ann Ness

No critic of phenomenology, arguably, has been more influential in prefiguring recent discourses on power, gender, and sexuality that have emerged in dance studies in recent decades than the philosopher-historian-critic Michel Foucault. The number of dance scholars directly citing Foucault, and the number influenced indirectly by his ideas through intermediary theorists such as Judith Butler—perhaps the single most popular one—is so large as to require an essay of its own just to survey. Virtually every analysis of choreographic practice that has addressed these topics since the 1980s has drawn directly or indirectly on Foucault's theories. Indeed, the very mention of the term “discipline” in current dance scholarship (and many related fields as well) more or less automatically makes reference to Foucault's genealogical study of incarceration, Surveiller et punir. Naissance de la prison, translated into English as Discipline and Punish: Birth of the Prison, and, in particular to the chapter, “Les corps dociles” or “Docile Bodies” (Foucault 1975, 137–171; 1975/1995, 135–170).

(Online publication February 09 2012)

Sally Ann Ness is professor of anthropology at the University of California, Riverside. Her research focuses on semeiotic theory, movement analysis, posthumanist and postphenomenological theories of space and place, touristic performance, and dance ethnography. Her publications include Body, Movement, and Culture: Kinesthetic Symbolism in a Philippine Community (1992); Migrations of Gesture, co-edited with Carrie Noland (2008); “Bouldering in Yosemite: Emergent Signs of Place and Landscape,” in American Anthropologist, vol. 113, no. 1 (2011); and “Choreographies of Tourism in Yosemite Valley; Rethinking ‘Place’ in terms of Motility,” in Performance Research, vol. 12, no. 2 (2007).