PERFORMING THE SELF (currently running)

Transdisciplinary research project (2015-...) by Bojana Cvejić, Marta Popivoda and Ana Vujanović


After the twentieth century has been cast as the century of the self, the question arises of how the contemporary expressions of the self in the public and private domains of social life could be best accounted for. According to a prominent thesis of diverse approaches in social sciences throughout the twentieth century, the self is constructed through performances and technologies that rest on the metaphors of theatricality and choreography. Thus the notable analytical models of the self being constructed through performance include body techniques and habitus (Marcel Mauss, Norbert Elias, Pierre Bourdieu); act and gesture (Michael Bahktin), social roles and performance of the self (Erving Goffman), technologies of the self (Michel Foucault), man as actor (Richard Sennett), and performing identity (Judith Butler). The project investigates the contemporary practices of the self in search of a model that best describes and interprets their current form, basing itself on the contemporary theories of performance, dance and theater.

In continuation of our theorization of the public sphere from the perspective of performance,[1] the main concern here is the relationship between the current expansion of individualism and the crisis of the social. It is regarded both as the withering of societal and collectivist visions in which individuals would invest their performance of the self – the waning of the social consciousness in individuals’ account of the self – and as the weakening of the social power of productivity and social modes of action. In other words, we suggest that in discerning how techniques of the performing of the self produce an individualist account of oneself, we might get closer to grasping how the erosion of social power and shared common concerns is correlated with the rise of individualistic views of personal independence, uniqueness and self-interest.

Two main products are envisaged as the outcome of the research: one book written by A. Vujanović and B. Cvejić and one film by M. Popivoda, in collaboration with B. Cvejić.

The following residency programs support the research: Schloss Solitude, Stuttgart; Academy of the Art of the World, Cologne and Skogen, Gothenburg. The theoretical research of Ana Vujanović and Bojana Cvejić is supported with a virtual residency by Sarma platform, Belgium.



More about our theoretical and political focus

The focus of the project is the role of performance in the aestheticizing of post-Fordist technologies of the self, which correspond to contemporary forms of individualism. We investigate those practices and technologies of the self that sustain contemporary forms of individualism resulting from the current form of capitalism, also referred to as Post-Fordism, in liberal democracy. Its main thesis posits that liberal individualism in the current Western regimes of democracy is an ideology rehearsed through aestheticizing performances of the self across the boundaries of the private and the public spheres.

Furthering that thesis, we try to investigate the specificities of the nowadays self and its modalities of performing, such as autopoietic self, possessive self, etc. To propose an alternative to that state of affairs requires an alternative social history of the notion of the self, which takes into account Marxist notions of alienation and human nature as a generic aspect of human being, as well as Gilbert Simondon’s ontogenesis based of psychic and collective individuation. None of these views alone, however, seems sufficient in discerning the contemporary forms of performing the self and articulating the alternatives. Therefore, in the frame of our research project, we create an epistemic platform around the notion of “transindividuality“, which draws on Paolo Virno’s and Jason Read’s reading of Marx’s conception of human nature with Simondon’s ontogenesis, as well as Etienne Balibar’s interpretation of the transindividual in Spinoza. The basic working postulates of that platform are: the collective presents preindividual and transindividual realities, and as such it is an integral part of the individual subject; the individual is capable of taking an active role in the transformation of the preindividual onto the transindividual level; but in the current state of capitalist production and representative democracy, the preindividual fails to become res publica and becomes commodified instead, leading to the alienation of the individual from her/his generic human nature. Hence, our main concern: What can turn the passive condition of transindividuality into an active process? Which practices, which forms of performance, what kinds of activities counter or break through the individualist confinement of the self toward the transindividual collectivity?

Aware of the limits in which we can give only tentative, rather than definitive propositions to the questions we raise, our priority is to identify and explicate the problems and the symptoms of the individualist practice of the self today in the hope of indicating possible courses of action for further ideological engagement, political and cultural activism, artistic work, and everyday life.


[1] Bojana Cvejić and Ana Vujanović Public Sphere by Performance, bbooks, Berlin 2012 and Yugoslavia, How Ideology Moved Our Collective Body, film by Marta Popivoda, 2013