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My Boots



Drew Davidson







            "I was idly adjusting my clothing, thinking of nothing in particular, when I happened to look down, and there they were: My boots.  Two completely unremarkable boots.  They were right where they belonged, on the ends of my legs.  Presumably my feet were inside.  I felt a sudden thrill of terror."

                        -Sandy Stone, The War of Desire and Technology at the End of the Mechanical Age



            I have been developing an ethnography of my friend and professor, Sandy Stone.  And the final representation of my field work was a scripted (so to speak) performance.  With this paper, I am going to  use the evaluation criteria we established as a class as a structure through which I will discuss  various issues, theories and problems I have had doing this performative ethnography.  Throughout the paper I will also insert sections of my fieldnotes and the performance script to (re)present the process of this ethnography.  I am interested in trying to write a non-traditional paper that somewhat evokes the process and the performance.

            How do I situate with Sandy?  As a mentee, as a peer, as a fan of sci-fi, as a fan of her, as a friend.  I feel connected in that I connect with most my friends, disconnected in her sometimes awkward social manner (me talking here, maybe I make her feel awkward at times).  But, I feel engaged in that I care about her, and disconnected in that she's an odds bodkins and mysterious.  I chose her cause I knew she'd be fun and flex and wild.  She fucks with identity ad infinitum, what a subject.

            Polyphony--Does the performance offer more than one voice?  Does the ethnographer attempt to share authority?


            Me (to audience)- "Well, we're all Sandy Stone."       

            Polyphony is a part of performance that I find amazingly useful and challenging.  In general, I think it can be utilized to represent a multitude of voices and points of view.  That said, I definitely attempted to share authority.  I went so far as having Sandy on stage with me and letting her script her own lines (which, as you know, turned out to be totally ad-libbed).  I also wanted to speak my lines in her voice and then in my own, although the genesis of the lines for the script were quotes and paraphrases from Sandy that I edited into a conversation of sorts.  So, not only was she speaking as herself (and as the male version of herself in drag) but I was speaking as her and as myself via her own lines.  So, there was a cacophony of Sandy Stones on stage in various and sundry forms and contents. 

            "Borders bleed, as much as they contain" (Conquergood 184).

            Sandy- (say whatever comes to your mind, just keep it at about a minute)


            Presence of Ethnographer--Does the ethnographer situate herself or himself in the work?  Is the subjectivity a part of the performance?


            I think in this day and age it is crucial that you not only acknowledges one's inherent subjectivity in the process of an ethnography, but that you incorporate it into the project itself.  Now, I do not want to get so narcissistic that the focus of the project is more me than them, but I also do not want to feign a non-existent objectivity.  Instead, I find it much more interesting to travel the tensions found in between the two poles.  I discussed the various frames in which I associate with Sandy, as a student, friend, peer, fan, etc.  But I also admitted that there was even more ways in which I did not know her (and probably never would). 

            Me- "...like I said there's a lot of different ways that I know Sandy, but there's even more ways in which I don't know her."

            She responded to this comment by telling that beautiful story about her grandmother and how the use to always wish her good luck in Hebrew, which Sandy never understood at the time, and thought of it as gibberish.  A story that added to my frames of knowing her while showing the ways in which I do not. 

            As an ethnographer I firmly admitted my subjectivity and went so far at times to not record conversations with Sandy but to go on my memory of what happened.  I was interested in the fluidity in which a multitude of people recall an event, so that Sandy's memory of a conversation would have subtle differences from mine.  Neither would be necessarily incorrect, unless we had a record of what was actually said, it is our memory that allows us to fabricate, in every sense of that word, what actually occurred. 


            Accountability--In what ways was the ethnographer accountable to the fieldwork community?  Are fieldwork community members present?  Did the ethnographer collaborate with the fieldwork community on the construction of the piece?


            Accountability was an aspect I felt was somewhat problematized by my piece.  Not only was Sandy present, but I let her choose what she was going to say in response to my comments during the performance.  She was a co-author of the piece.  So, the problem is whether or not I am held accountable for what she says during the performance.  The authority of the piece is decentralized between the two of us (and it is split into thirds when Joni Jones joins in as well).  So, the collaboration is in full effect, with three members adding their voices to the piece.

            Me- "Well , I just wanna give credit where credit is due."  

            Problems aside, I believe that the ethnographer should most definitely allow themselves the frame in which to be held accountable for their representation of the subject(s).  At best, have the subject present and/or a part of the process itself, contributing to the scripting and performing of the piece.  At the very least, it would be nice to have the ethnographic subject present to acknowledge the stakes of your representation of them.

            Email from Sandy- *guffaw!!* You really trust me to riff around what you and Joni are doing in an almost totally unstructured way, huh, and to pull it off without sinking?  Wot faith. I tell you!


            "Participation"--How does the ethnographer take advantage of the live medium?


            Me- "For answers to this and more I turn to the one and only, the renowned and tenured Sista Docta Joni Jones."

            I am thoroughly fascinated by the potential of performance in the interaction of the audience and performer in the live moment.  I tried to take advantage of this in two ways.  First, both Sandy and I directed our lines into the audience, breaking down the fourth wall and striking up more of an active conversation with the audience. 

            Me- "...kind of like you're (audience) a spectator to this performance, you're a part of it as well, here we are interfacing face-face in this performance space."

            I was trying to interact more directly with the audience, showing them their part of the process and the stakes of their involvement in the performance.  Second, most of the lines between Sandy and myself were improv.  The form and content of our lines was born and died in the live moment of the performance.  In general, performances never happen the same way twice (Phelan 149).  But the improvisational nature of this performance guarantees dissimilarities. 

            Sandy (from what I remember)- "... and you're sitting here sweating bullets cause you have no idea where I'm going and how we're going to rein this all back in..." (oh so true).


            The Issue--Are the "subjects" situated within a specific issue, idea and/or theory?  What is the concept that the performance is exploring?


            Thoughts about Sandy; identity, identity, identity.

            I was exploring the issues of identity with my ethnography of Sandy.  Identity is a very interesting phenomena that we all deal with daily and some of us rarely give more than two seconds of our time exploring just exactly what we mean by saying who we are.  Sandy has built a life style out of her explorations of who she is; not only to herself but to the world writ large.  In scripting an ethnography around Sandy, I realized that I would have to address issues of identity and, if not all, at least some of the problems therein. 

            Like the thrill of terror her boots gave her (see quote above), I think all of us at one time or another have asked fundamental, and scary, questions of ourselves- Who am I?  Who are you?  Who are we to each other?  And, if you are like me, good solid answers to these questions are hard to find; hence the fear.  If our identity is vague, then who are we when we wake up in the morning?  Definitely not the same person who was out the night before, but in a way the two of us are related.

            Our identities are necessary accessories to who we are, we have them on every day, and every day they are different.  We help each other shape these accessories, it's how we get to know each other.  Without identities, who would we be?  A whole bunch of nobodies?  But we aren't, we each share idiosyncrasies, it's what makes us unique and similar.  It's the same difference.  So, if reading this has only made you as confused as I am, then I hope we can talk about it, cause with questions of identity, we're all in this together. 

            I believe this performance was steeped in questions of identity, I started the piece dressed as Sandy and she in male drag (she is a post-op transsexual woman).  Throughout the piece, we doffed our clothes, exchanged and added new outfits til we were dressed as ourselves by the end. 

            Me- "...identity is a very fluid thing, it can change and it can be changed and yet we sorta feel there's this anchor that's us or you or me, and that's my point, that anchor really is us, it's our identity.  We are all identities, it's what we wear every day, it's a necessary accessory."


            Reference Points--How does the ethnographer share aspects of the community in the performance?  Are there visual and/or audio representations of the community?


            Sandy- She will be dressed in male drag.  She will enter around the same time as me and joins me/her at the table piling books as well and doing her thing, whatever that thing may be (totally up to her).

            Again, Sandy was present during the performance in body, embodied and speaking to her hearts content.  So, the audience received a direct impression of who Sandy is, not only to me, but to them as well, they could see her with their own eyes.  Of course, the representation of herself was framed within the confines of the script and the space, but nonetheless, the crowd got a glimpse of Sandy.


            Detail--Does the ethnographer mask the self to allow the "subject(s)" to come forward?  Is there detail to the embodiment?


            ELP SUX- highly problematic and essentially hypocritical in ways. You can never get person, there is no one-one correspondence.  I think it makes a great workshop exercise, but as performance it falls on its face, literally.  I want to evoke Sandy less linearly, work on symbolism, etc.  Want to move beyond linear, look for other manifestations of Sandy's spirit and employ them in my final work, evoking them in other ways as it were.

            I was the least interested in trying to embody Sandy, although I do find this to be a strength of performance ethnography.  Personally, I was more interested in finding ways to (re)present her that were more abstract and evocative of who she is to me.  That said, I think that embodying a person is a powerful and haptic way in which to learn about a person, not only is your mind engaged, but your body as well.   I am not dismissing this a practice, I just found it more useful as an exploratory tool into the person's characteristics, that then needed further exploration to make the move into a performative space.  By this I mean I am more interested in not "nailing" an embodiment, were it seems we more often then not get highly stilted readings of a person, but instead looking for representation that evokes the spirit of the person. 

            "I'm not . . . interested in acting and . . . wearing the glove perfectly" (Smith 68)

            In my piece, I was wearing Sandy's clothes and was going to attempt to mimic her gestures and intonations, but what was interesting in terms of a loss of self, I feel Sandy totally upstaged me from the get go.

            Sandy (from what I remember)- "Spitfire and damnation, you're not Sandy Stone, I'm Sandy Stone.  What the fuck are you talking about?"

            So, in this odd sort of way she took over the spotlight of the performance and the focus was more on her than me.  This of course, problematizes issues of evaluation in that she seemed to steal the show, so, how does that reflect on me.  Anyway, I found her presence on stage to be powerful and central to the outcome of the performance.

            Sandy- "Ah, that's pretty much, that's all I got to say, really.  SHOOT ME, SHOOT ME NOW, SHOOT ME NOW LORD!"


            [The dialogue is going to be somewhat fluid and is being scripted by Sandy and myself and we will not only be talking to each other, but to the crowd.  So, in some way I have no idea what's going to happen, this is very apropos of Sandy in general.]

     "One works at the liminal, one plays with the liminoid" (Turner 55).

                         I have attempted to write a non-traditional paper that somewhat evokes the process and the performance of my ethnography with Sandy.  Using our class' evaluation criteria as a structure, I discussed various issues, theories and problems I had doing this performative ethnography.  I inserted sections of my fieldnotes and the performance script to (re)present the process.  After it has all been said and done, I find the process of performance ethnography to be not only useful but valuable.  It allows ethnographers a different way to represent their studies.  Like text-bound ethnography, performance ethnography may have its own unique problems, but it also has its own unique strengths. Like my performance, I am not sure how this paper works, but I find that it is representative of the process that I went through during my study of Sandy Stone.

            "And that is why the post-modern ethnography is an occult document; it is an enigmatic, paradoxical, and esoteric conjunction of reality and fantasy that evokes the constructed simultaneity we know as naive realism" (Tyler 134).

            Sandy- "However . . ."




Works Cited

  Conquergood, Dwight.  "Rethinking Ethnography: Towards a Critical Cultural Politics."  Communications Monographs. Vol 58, June 1991.

  Phelan, Peggy.  Unmarked: The Politics of Performance.  New York:  Routledge, 1993.

  Smith, Anna Deavere.  "...On "Fires in the Mirror."  Interview in Text and Performance  Quarterly.  Kay Ellen Capo and Kristin M. Langellier. January, 1994.

  Turner, Victor.  From Ritual to Theatre: The Human Seriousness of Play.  New York: PAJ Pubs, 1982.

  Tyler, Stephen A.  "Post-Modern Ethnography: From Document of the Occult to Occult  Document."  Writing Culture.  Ed. James Clifford, Berkeley: U of California   Press, 1986.




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