Abstract Prickett

Democratising Moves:  Agency, Power & the Body

Stacey Prickett

Recently, the word ‘democracy’ has featured prominently in the press, with calls to restore it, save it from ominous threats, and expose challenges to its principles, all predicated on an assumed understanding of the concept.  In ancient Greece, dēmokratia (dēmos = people and kratos = rule) meant the people’s government, however, the roots of today’s political democracies are often located in the 18th century revolutions of the USA and France.  The transfer of power remains a defining principle, shifting control from an elite to a multitude, but as Raymond Williams notes, much depends on who ‘the people’ are and what is meant by ‘rule’.   How do the principles that inspired democratic revolutions relate to the ballot box versions of democracy today?  The lecture will move across the centuries to consider contemporary concerns arising out of decolonisation and post-World War II nation-building projects to highlight the complexities of democracy as a concept.

How is democracy embodied?  Historical iconography features people in movement, in acts of defiance and diverse displays of power.  Moving bodies are agents of change or resistance, engaging with democratic ideals through their actions.  Case studies will explore how bodies create democratic moves in protest marches, in stillness as civil disobedience, and through recreational and more formal choreographic strategies as dances.  As a verb, to democratise something means to make it more accessible, which is what inspired many modern dancers of the 1930s.  By the 1960s, different connotations arose when the term was invoked by postmodern movers, working through innovative contact improvisation and pedestrian vocabularies.  Contemporary community dance practices help expand acceptance of who can dance and where.  The lecture will also consider how democratic projects may reinforce differing priorities around the globe, inviting questions about who has agency and how is democratic power embodied?