Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Communication Studies

First Advisor

Michael Bowman


This study investigates the relationship among cultural performance, community, and contestation in two depression-era, organized labor social dramas. The major arguments developed in the study are summarized in the following three contentions. First, performances are inherently contestatory. Second, contestation and community stand in an interdependent rather than oppositional relationship to one another. Third, a dialectical relationship exists between performance and community whereby communities not only produce but are produced by performances. Chapter one defines key concepts and offers a rationale for the study. Two rationales for exploring the relationship among cultural performances, contestation, and community are advanced. First, despite the increasingly political view of performance adopted by scholars during the past two decades, most performance studies scholarship nevertheless has stopped short of advancing a view of performance as inherently contestatory. Second, while new historicists have popularized the performance-culture dialectic, they have not provided an accompanying framework for describing how performances instantiate contestation and negotiate community. Chapter two advances an agonistic framework for analyzing performance. To analyze how cultural performances instantiate contestation, the agonistic framework directs attention to three interrelated realms: the direction of effectivity (whether the performance maintains or subverts status quo relations of power), the mode of effectivity (the strategies through which the directional movement is transacted), and the spheres of contestation (the levels at which the strategies are operationalized, whether textual, spatial, or conceptual). To analyze how performances negotiate community, the agonistic framework directs attention to two interrelated realms: inscribed community (the representations of community inscribed in performances) and enacted community (the relationship among performers, among audience members, and between performers and audience members). Chapters three and four use the analytical framework proposed in chapter two. Chapter three uses the agonistic framework to investigate the Workers Alliance of America's 1936 seizure of the New Jersey State Assembly. Chapter four uses the agonistic framework to investigate the 1936-1937 Flint, Michigan, autoworkers' sitdown strike. Chapter five articulates conclusions and suggests directions for future research.