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Cultural Studies Critical Methodologies

11(2) 129138
2011 SAGE Publications
Reprints and permission: http://www.
DOI: 10.1177/1532708611401331

The Labor of Reflexivity

D. Soyini Madison1

Reflexivity is examined as an act of labor. Employing Tami Spry and Della Pollocks discretely different articulations of
the performative and the I, reflexivity becomes a particular quality of labor that works to leave something behind,
something that lingers, something that will remain long after our reflexive work takes form.What labor as reflexivity leaves
behind both embraces and jettisons notions of hauntings and memories, because it contemplates its own contemplations
within past and future contingencies of self and Other that are boundlessly committed to an enlivening present. Labor as
reflexivity is enumerated as being constituted by materiality, futurity, and performative temporality.
labor, performative-I, materiality, futurity, performative temporality
. . . the fact of labor is that with it life begins and goes on . . .
Briankle G. Chang (2010, p. 90)
When I am doing my embodied/written performance
autoethnography from the borders, I cross the places I live
and labor. I am performing community.
Marcelo Diversi and Claudio Moreira (2009, p. 82)

I am searching for the fallout of reflexivity. Im searching for

what lingers behind after reflexivity has come and gone.
After we have done our work reflexively, what should then
matter or happen? What are the generative and lasting effects
of being reflexive? What is the futurity of reflexivity? These
are the questions that rest nervously on the surface of my
search. They seem like harmless and reasonable questions.
But, the undersurface tensions of these questions are less
friendly, less harmless, and perhaps hostile to the very notion
of reflexivity (see Madison, 2005; 2010). At the root of my
questions (and my search for reflexivitys fallout) is the need
to penetrate the surface appearances of how you, me, the self,
or, more precisely, the self-reference can actually be
employed, can actually labor, even be productively exploited,
for the benefit of larger numbers than just ourselves. In
searching for reflexivitys lasting effects, I am searching for
why the self-reference matters, but, moreover, I am searching
for what the self-reference does to matter. I am searching for
the labor of self-reflexivity that will lead us to a band of
Others or what Dwight Conquergood called a caravan
his metaphor of the caravan as a space of radical democracy
and difference where fellow travelers are deeply and meaningfully interacting with one another and engaged in highly

performative possibilities as they move through borders and

journey across vast territories together. I have described the
labor of reflexivity elsewhere (2006) as a dialogical performative that serves to widen the door of the caravan and to
clear more space for Others to enter and ride (p. 321). The
dialogical performative is a commitment to the labor of
reflexivity because the ethnographer not only contemplates
his or her actions and meanings in the field (reflective) but
also she or he turns inward to contemplate how she or he is
contemplating actions and meaning. The labor of contemplating how we are contemplating is not merely an implication
of the self or being self-conscious about how the self illuminates the social, but it is an implication of the knowledge
systems, paradigms, and vocabularies we employ in our contemplations to interpret and speak through the self and the
social (see Alexander, 2006; Bochner & Ellis, 2002; 2004;
Pelias, 2004).
I want now move from the dialogic performative to what
seems to be an ironic turn. The move is from placing dialogic in front of the performative to now replacing it with
I after the performative. The link between what appears
to be the polyvocal inference within the dialogic and the monologic inference within the I brings them together through
their mutuality of the performative. The performative-I
imagines the self as a social world where something must
get done, just as dialogue (already implicated with Others)

Northwestern University, Evanston, IL

Corresponding Author:
D. Soyini Madison, Performance Studies and Anthropology, 1920 Campus
Drive, Evanston, IL 60208

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Cultural Studies Critical Methodologies 11(2)

through the performative also requires that something
must get done. In the dialogic performative and in the performative-I, what must get done is the labor of reflexivity that
produces a fallout, that lingers, that has effects. The labor of
reflexivity is driven by the classic question, To what end?
Della Pollok discusses the I, not necessarily as an ethnographic enterprise but more specifically through the act of
writing. It is Pollocks (2007) articulation of the I through
writing that resonates with a dialogical performative and the
labor of reflexivity in fieldwork.
In each case, the writing I gains authority less by
proprietary claims on experience than by dispersion
in and through the representation of experiences that
produce a changed and changing subject. In each
case, the ego-identified or intentional self disappears
into reflexivity, story, boundless otherness, other
times and places, embodied knowledges, unspeakable violence, and discovery itself as a really great
mistake. In each case moreover, the abject returns
with the preformed self in process and radical contingency; in the sensuous bodyin all of its pleasure
and terror; and in embodied difference . . . This performative I thus has a politics and an ethics.
Performing displacement by error, intimacy, others, it
moves beyond the atomization, alienation, and reproduction of the authorial self toward new points of
identification and alliance. (p. 252)
The performative I that Pollock describes grows
through writing to discover and embody both the mistaken and
the near perfect through multiple terrains of otherness that
spread through pages while reaching forth from and beyond
writing. A compliment to Pollocks performative I, in the
case of writing, is the articulation of the performative-I by
Tami Spry (2006) in the case of autoethnography,1 as both
women stand in the performative with and against the
problems that beset the world (see Hall, 1997). Spry states,
I offer the phrase performative-I as a researcher positionality that seeks to embody the copresence of performance and
ethnography as these practices have informed, reformed,
and coperformed one another in the historicity of their disciplinary dialogue (p. 340). Spry then goes on to enumerate
the labor and lasting effects in her own reflections and performance of the performative-I:
I could feel a methodological shift in my positionality
within this and other fields of study from participantobserver actor to a performative-I subject(ive) researcher
positionality involving (1) textual forms as effects of the
fragments and wreckage of experience, (2) an empathetic epistemology of critical and copresent reflection
with others in transforming systems of dominance, and

(3) a performative writing that constructs self as a motile

conflation of social/linguistic effects creating a performative participatory engagement with others. (p. 341)
Spry is reminding us that there is now the promise of
transparency, accountability, and an inherent subjectivity in
the researchers claims and judgments; that there is an ecology of the self that productively awakens or disturbs
particular universals in human discontent, desire, suffering,
and hope; and that the performative-I is a politics of the
caravan that intervenes in the subtle and overt hegemonic
colonizing practices of cultural representation, listening
for both the silences and the songs of subjugation (p. 343).
When reflexivity is understood as constitutive of the
performative-I, not only are we asserting that the labor of
reflexivity is a demand for transparent accountability,
skilled artistry, and radical politics from the researcher but
also can we more confidently resist the slings and arrows of
positivisms obsession with evidence. We are no longer
compelled to prove reflexivitys legitimacy to what Craig
Gingrich-Philbrook (2005) calls the Daddys of positivism, or their methodologies and theories, because we honor
our laborour epistemic authority and aesthetic demands.
Or, at least, this becomes an enlivening starting point.

Big Daddy
Recently, I witnessed a prestigious university committee
deny excellent and groundbreaking university, graduate fellowships to those applications conducting ethnographic and
qualitative research. This committee, mostly comprised of
men from the social and physical sciences, expressed their
objections with such assertions as How does she know her
subjects are telling the truth! The researcher is a member
of the group, therefore he cant be objective! This is not
scholarly work because there is no proof of evidence! The
other female member of this committee reviewed an application that enumerated detailed judgments concerning the
needs of a particular community and its members, but the
applicant had never visited the community or spoken with
any of its members. When she suggested the applicant
would have done well to employ ethnographic methods in
his study, one of the male committee members laughed and
said, Ethnography! Please!
Big Daddys gatekeepers still have the power to close
the gates, limiting dialogue and mobility, of cutting-edge
research and urgent questions that invoke the most generative agendas of a critical performative-I where the
epistemic/aesthetic double bind is transformed into generative, complicated, narrated and effectively engaged
work (Gingrich-Philbrook, 2005, p. 206). Shall we dismiss
Big Daddy as moribund, unenlightened, uninformed and
unfair? As Gingrich-Philbrook states, Daddys hard to

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budge (p. 207). What do we do with these folks? I agree
with Gingrich-Philbrook that we cannot spend our precious time and energy (nor should we) attempting to
justify the presence in writing to the patriarchal council
of self-satisfied social scientists (p. 207). What I want
to do with Big Daddy is less about a conversation with
him2 to justify the existence of reflexive scholarship and
more about entering the already vibrant and rigorous discussion of reflexive scholarship and offering my two
cents to the conceptualizations and vocabularies I have
come to depend on for inspiration, pleasure, and intellectual rigor.
I would like to further underscore Pollocks and Sprys
arguments for a performative-I/performative I, as well as
the ongoing and valuable tensions of Gingrich-Philbrooks
epistemic/aesthetic double bind, by adding a conceptualization of labor as it is configured within the domains of
materiality, futurity, and temporality. In keeping with the
impulses of reflexive scholarship, this conceptualization of
labor was and is motivated by how reflexivity manifested
and functioned in my ethnographic fieldwork on human
rights activism in West, Africa.

Reflexivity as Labor: Materiality, Futurity,

and Performative Temporality
The broadly defined understanding of reflexivity is what
Charlotte Aull Davies (1999) describes as a turning back
on oneself, a process of self-reference (p. 4). Specifically,
for our purposes in this special issue, reflexivity illuminates how individual ethnographers in the field and out
of it must seek to develop forms of research that fully
acknowledge and utilize subjective experience as an intrinsic part of research (p. 5). But what does this mean when
we seek to articulate reflexivity as labor to augment the
possibilities of what lingerslarger possibilities toward its
lasting effects. This is the goal: employing the critical
performantive-I as both a point of departure and motivation toward how we might seek reflexivitys ongoing effects
by casting reflexivity as labor. By labor I mean a mental
and/or physical task, that is, an assigned or designated effort,
toward a material end or toward economies of invention,
purpose, and survival. By labor I mean a great effort
emanating from and toward materiality that ironically
encompasses imagination and futurity. By labor in this
instance I mean work and the ontology of work as well
as its poetic experience and imaginings about itself. By
labor I mean the possibilities for thinking in terms of the
utopianthe here/the now/the future in this place or an
everywhere no place. I also mean contemplating existential
drudgery, like Prometheus unending hell, and the cruel
destiny of repetitions and torturous boredom. By labor I
mean work and that which both entails work and exceeds

itthe work of the brain and the work of the body that is
both separate and inseparable under the infinite temporalities of labor. By labor I mean a job and its resonances, that
is, something that one must get done and the emotional
affect, material context, and shared belonging that gives it
form and makes it integral to what it means to be human,
that makes our access to, and need for, labor a human right.
Like reflection, Labor becomes truly critical when it is
shared (Chang, 2010, p. 91). This special issue is a testament that we are all in a particular labor force together. It is
our job, here, as critical and reflexive thinkers to write
metareflexively with beauty and wisdom that will implicate the present and the future. Briankle G. Chang (2010)
sums it up:
Labor matters. It cuts and cuts into matter . . . the
mother of all. To labor is to affirm life which begins
with labor . . . Inasmuch as the fact of labor is that
with it life begins and goes on, the truth of life is that
labor defines, that is, makes finite, much of what we
do and are in life, that labor, having always and
already begun, survives its own manifold articulations, including all that seeks to negate it. . . . The
transition from one type of labor to another thus not
only brings a change in the forms of life in which one
finds oneself but it also demands a change of the
lenses through which one views the history that is just
past and ones own place in the history that is now
unfolding. (p. 90)
If we believe that labor affirms life brings life into
being and sustains it, through its excesses of forms and
performances, then the jobs we do, the work we embody
implicates our survival and historys unfolding present.
In framing reflexivity as labor, I aim to add to the discussions in this collection another conceptual lens through
which one views . . . ones place in the history that is now
unfolding relative to how we do ethnography through
the labor of reflexivity. I take this up by illuminating
three interanimating modalities: Materiality, Futurity,
and Performative Temporality. I will begin with a working definition of each term, followed by a performance
excerpt to illustrate. The excerpts that follow are lifted
from a performance presented at the University of North
Carolina, Chapel Hill in 2005, based on moments of
reflexivitythe Performative-Iduring my fieldwork
on the human right to clean, accessible water in Ghana,
West Africa.

The Rhetoric of Materiality

In the rhetoric of materiality, I draw from those theories
that ascribe to matter as the mother of all, the proposition

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Cultural Studies Critical Methodologies 11(2)

that physical matter is the ultimate reality and that all
existence, including consciousness, affect, and ideology
emanate from the overarching dynamics of matter or,
more precisely, political economy3 of physical phenomena. The core idea is that human behavior and society are
fundamentally shaped by the social and technical organization of economic production and exchange (see Collins,
di Leonardo, & Williams, 2008). Obviously the processes
of social change can never be attributable to culture,
knowledge, or ideas isolated from the material conditions
of human life, or in the way economic activities and
arrangements then value, reward, and organize the sociality of space and time. Conducting fieldwork in West Africa
demanded that I pay attention and that I must be reflexive
as I witnessed the materiality of my surroundings. I soon
realized that reflexivity (as a critical performative-I)
entered the domain of materiality during my fieldwork in
Ghana and took up issues of political economy, most
effectively, through the art of rhetoric. In other words, the
performative-I situated in the political economy of water
and privatization in Ghana employed rhetorical conventions to do the labor of reflection. Why the coupling of
rhetoric and materiality? Rhetoric as a civic, public, art
as what we commonly refer to as the art of persuasionis
understood as having the power to shape communities,
civic life, and citizenry, beyond using customary tools of
discourse by also entering realms of experience and symbolic action. The material reality surrounding a political
economy of water invoked reflections of water democracy
and how I was implicated, as a researcher, artist, and citizen of the world in being witness to the global inequities
of water and its distribution. The performative-I, within
the ethnographic reflexivity of water democracy, required
that I challenge my own reflections and ask myself the
hard and timeless question of how I had the right or the
authority to make judgments about a people, country, and
problem of which I did not belong. The performative-I
required that the question be staged as a rhetorical question where I was not only dramatically challenging my
own claims but also laboring, in rhetorical form, in an
open and free public venue, to persuade and convince
audiences that access to clean water as a human right was
being threatened by local and global forces (see Black,

Me and My Shadow4
(R1 and R2 stand for the two actors who represent the
ethnographer who is depicted on stage as having two identities in the characterizations of Recorder One [upstage
left] and Recorder Two [downstage right]. They are facing
each other across the opposite ends of the stage).

R1: In KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa, they arrested

Mr. Sule and put him in a prison cell.5 He had
stolen water.
R2: What Happened?
R1: Mr. Sule earned 100 rand per month selling water,
but eventually he could not afford to pay the water
bill. He also had to pay for food and shelter for his
family and school fees for his children. His family
needed water and he could no longer stand by and
watch his children beg for it. Mr. Sule made an
illegal connection to the supply pipe. When it was
discovered, the police came and put him in jail.
R2: What does Mr. Sule have to do with you? What
are you doing here in Ghana?
R1: Its about water . . . . I need to know more . . . . I
need to do . . . .
R2: (Mockingly) Water . . . I neeeed to know . . . I need
to do . . . what is it you need to know . . . to do?
R1: There are big people with big money who want to
own the water.
R2: And???
R1: AND they want to sell it!
R2: And???
R1: AND they want to manage it and make a profit!
R2: Annnnnnd???
R1: AND there will be people who can NOT afford to
pay for it!
R2: Ohhhhhhh . . . . But, what has that got to do with
you, nosey woman! Stay out of other peoples business. PROFIT and PRIVATIZATION have always
been the twins of progress! You know what they
say: God provided the water, but not the pipes.
R1: There will be people who cannot afford to pay for it!!
R2: Read my lips: (emphasize each word) W A T E R B
U S I N E S S-- m-a-n-a-g-e-m-e-n-t // d-i-s-t-r-i-bu-t-i-o-n // m-a-i-n-t-e-n-a-n-c-e // s-a-n-i-t-a-t-i-o-n.
PIPES! PIPES! PIPES! Water is not free!
R1: (preachy) Water Cannot Be Owned! Water is a
public good. The public will manage it, the public
should profit from it, the public . . . .
R2: (She laughs) The public/Shmug-lic! . . . Hah! (as
if reading a headline, then becomes very, very sarcastic!) The public in the Developing World
Economies, oh that public has been VERY successful, so efficient, so honest, and so concerned
about the public goodYes, yes, getting water to
allllllll the people allllll the time, concerned about
alllll its poor citizens, never an ounce of corruption or waste or just NOT knowing what the hell
theyre doing . . . yes, leave it to the governments
of these countries, after all they have done SO well
(dramatic change in attitude) . . . done soooo well.

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R1: You dont understand. You havent been paying
attention to . . . it is . . . it is . . . let me explain . . .
the problem is . . . .
R2: The PROBLEM is the public sector has done so
well as the water pipes break down everywhere; as
the water collectors take money from the people and
put that money in their own pockets, as the government water companies over-charge, mis-charge,
under-charge, or dont charge for water they mismanage, while all the while making a messy waste of
natural resources. Some people around here havent
had water flowing from their pipes in weeks! Months!
R1: You are not looking below the surface! You
dont know what youre talking about. You dont
know anything . . . . It is more complex, it is more
complex . . .
R2: (Mocking in a high voice) It is more complex, it is
more complex . . . Maybe if the Big people come,
with their Big plans, and their Big money, and their
Big pipes, and their Big teams, and their Big, Big,
Big, Big promises maybe people in this country can
get some water . . . clean, fresh, EFFICIENT water
R1: You dont understand what is really going on.
You are missing the point. You dont understand.
R2: Then make me understand! Help me understand!
Tell me what I need to know and do! Tell me the
TRUTH! You are here taking up space and getting
in the way . . . . Tell me what is the truth and what
needs to be done . . .
R1: (She is grasping for words and thinking hard)
The truth is . . . The problem . . . hmm . . . Its is
complex . . .
R2: (Exasperated) What is COMPLEX!
R1: Im learning . . . Its here, Ive got to get to . . . .
Im here . . . I will be here
R2: Learn what you came here to learn! Dont give
me slogans and platitudes! I am so tired of slogans
and platitudes? Can you say something different
and More! Recorder! There is no replacement for
water! NO Replacement!
R2 and R1: There is more to know here . . . I will
be here . . .
R1: I will be here
R2: I will be here . . . we
R1: We
R2: We must.
R1 and R2: We must.
The purpose of this scene is to draw attention to the
material conditions that cause human beings to steal water
for their loved ones to survive. It is to point to the material
conditions as effects of a political economy generated by

privatization and the forces of corporate globalization. The

Recorder (ethnographer) is bifurcated to rhetorically
embody the process of reflexivity that requires her to think,
to turn back, and question her claims and the authority of
her claims. Contemplations of her contemplations as well
as an interrogation of the knowledge systems she utilizes
and the contested truths she takes for granted as uncontested.

The Utopian Aesthetics of Futurity

I am examining futurity as postulating the question, What
should, what must, what is most desirable to come after
this presentness? The question begs for a better future
than what is now in the present. I turn to theories that
equate the future with the utopian. Jose Munoz (2005)
states, Something that should mobilize us, push us forward. Utopian is not prescriptive it renders potential
blueprints of a world not quite here, a horizon of possibility, not a fixed schema (p. 225).6 In citing Theodor Adorno
and Herbert Marcuse, Munoz states that utopia is primarily a critique of the here and now, it is an insistence that
there is, as they put it, something missing in the here and
the now (p. 226). If the utopia is within a present that
pushes us toward a multiplicity of possible futures
alternatives and potentialitiesthen this becomes a hope
for a better world. Munoz goes on to state, . . . but in this
instance, I dwell on hope because I wish to think about
futurity; and hope, I argue, is the emotional modality that
permits us to access futurity, par excellence (p. 226). The
emotional modality, in this instance, is embodied in the
reflexivity of the performative-I that is always, already
constituted by a utopian aestheticscultural performances
(as aesthetics) whose purpose is to be remembered, to
linger, and to have lasting effects toward a politics of future
possibilities, a hope for a better world (as utopian). In this
moment, the labor of reflexivity (as embodied in the
performative-I) is invested in the interanimating relationship between art and futurity. For Gilles Deleuze and Felix
Deleuze (1987), art can function as a line of flighta
signifying and material unending force that both traverses
and combines individual and collective subjectivities and
desires, challenging common sense and normativity as it
pushes it to the limit in its combinations and reconfigurations. The connective, expansive, and deterritorializing
character of lines of flight, when considered in terms of art,
draws our attention to the ethical dimensions of art . . . .
Art makes possible, it enables us to broaden our horizons
and understanding, sensitizing us to our own affective
dimension in relation to the world as a whole (p. 205). It
is this move toward a utopian aesthetics that fuels the
political imagination and does the labor of enacting a politics of futurity (Munoz, 2005, p. 228).

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Cultural Studies Critical Methodologies 11(2)


Traveling Stories
(R1 and R2 go back and forth in a less contested dialogue
than the one before. This time they are reaching for a
greater sense of purpose through contemplation and selfreflexivity. During their conversation, a slideshow of
fieldwork images plays on both screens.)
R1: Truth is elusive.
R2: But it demands our attention
R1: It doesnt stay in one place or breath inside one
R2: But, it can. Weve got to find those one places and
those one stories. Weve got to search. Truth
demands our attention in the multitudes of its yearnings. Weve got to fight for it. We are not alone.
R1: Can we see and listen deeply, past the obtuse
blindness of appearances and the paralyzing
silence of too much noise.
R2: Deep past the Lies reborn again and again by the
greedy and the lazy.
R1: We will search for Truth in the multitudes of the
one story.
R2: The one story that is always here and there and in
the everywhere details of life lived on the hard,
edge blade of truths teeth.
R1: It will hurt, it always does. Because truths blade
cuts deep, deep at the skin and bone of what it
R1: The implication.
R2: Yes. The implication that breaks your heart and
demands the search for more truth. More truth.
R1: Do we feel our hearts breaking from the teeth?
R2: Sometimes. But more than breaking, we feel our
heart swelling as if it is about to burst open into
R1: Burst from what?
R2: Burst from the fear and hope of finding the right
question to spark the right story that will unleash
an avalanche of truths
R1: Bursting from the fear and hope of how we will
carry these stories back, so they will not soften the
teeth of truth or dull its blade
R2: We are bursting from how we will listen and wrap
words around the stories that we must carry back
R1: Back home
R2: Back here
R1: Back everywhere. The words we wrap around
Truths teeth will fly past us and carry themselves
beyond our reach. We make Retold stories.
R2: Every Retold story becomes a traveling story.
Retold far beyond the presence of our own body.

R1: Retold for truths sake? To harden the teeth and

sharpen the blade?
R2: Yes. Our hearts are bursting and not breaking
from the weight of the search, the weight of the
question, the implication, but most of all, most of
all, from the weight of carrying these truths truly?
R1: Yes, beyond our reaches and beyond the starting
point of the one true story?
R2: What give us the right to search for true stories?
How can we hang words upon them?
R1: We are not of this place. This is not our home.
R2: We live in the richest country in the world
R1: That is a fact. What should we do about it?
R2: Use it like a blade on fire against its own flame
R1: For Truths sake?
R2: Yes, and for the sake of hearts on the verge of
R1 and R2: Yes, and for the sake of hearts on the
verge of exploding.
The purpose of this scene is to ponder the stories that we
live in the field and record on our return. When we are
reflexive about these stores, we realize they are traveling
stories. They travel to outlive their presentness and to induce
blueprints for future worlds, for a futurity of hope and a
politics of truths (Denzin, 2003; 2010). The performative-I
is employing a utopian aesthetics of futurity because it is a
matter of survival and a promise made for those whose
stories the Recorder lived nearby, but will record far away.

The Performative of Temporality

Temporality is defined7 as relating to or limited by time;
worldly; secular or lay; characteristic of or devoted to
the temporal world as opposed to the spiritual world;
Lasting only for a time; not eternal; passing through
our temporal existence; of or relating to time as opposed
to eternity; of or relating to earthly life; of or relating to
a grammatical tense or a distinction of time; of or relating
to time as distinguished from space; of or relating to the
sequence of time or to a particular time; chronology.
I end this triad of labor modalities with temporality as
both a departure from and traces to materiality and futurity.
Temporality serves reflexivity and vice versa through the
performative-I by being necessarily constitutive of the material and by not being of the future but toward the future in an
ironic relationship with time. When temporality is joined
with the performative we can trick material time, we can
outlaw chronology, we can delimit the boundaries of presentness and, in the process, something gets done. According
to Richard Schechner (2002), we enter encounters in
the realm of doing . . . we pursue a throughline of action
(p. 4). What the performative-I of temporality allows is for

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us to do the labor of reflexively discombobulating our
earthly time to embody two time zones (or more) at once.
Adding performance to temporality changes it; it can now
play into the realm of the future and tease the fixity of a
specific time with its location for the purpose of a performative throughline of action. Ethnography is always about
the alchemy of living in multiple time zones, reflexivity
allows us to name and narrate it, use it (perhaps even exploit
it) beyond our own musings toward a rhetoric of materiality
and an aesthetics of futurity (Hamera, 2006; 2007).

Fresh Out of Water

(R1 and R2 are sitting on opposite platforms on the stage.
They are each looking out to the audience as they speak.)
R1: Dear Journal, October 12, 1998 University of
Ghana LegonAccra, Ghana, West Africa There
is no water in my housethe pipes are dry. Theres
no water left in my storage containers. Theres no
water anywhere here in Legon. I cant find water
and it scares me. They warned us about the pipes
drying up, but I never thought it would go on this
long. How could there not be water?
R2: Dear JournalJanuary 2006 London, England.
These are the facts: More than 1 billion people
lack access to clean and affordable water and
about 2 billion lack access to sanitation . . .
(For the remainder of the scene, R1 speaks from Ghana
and R2 speaks from London.)
R1: Kweku, said he will come and we will search for
water . . . he told me he knows where we can get
enough to fill the containers. I just want him to
hurry up and get here. Its just too scary not having
water . . . too weird and scary. I worry how the
students here are managing?
R2: In the urban areas of Ghana, only 40% of the
population has a water tap that is flowing; 78% of
the poor in urban areas do not have piped water.
R1: Im sitting here at the window waiting for Kweku
to drive up the gravel road and put an end to all
this water anxiety . . . how many greedy storage
containers will it take for little ol me to never run
out of clean water again?
R2: Treated water is available only to about 65% in
urban areas and only about 35% in rural areas.
R1: I remember one day I had just left the market.
I was standing at the TroTro stop trying to get back
home. It was so hot that day. I could hardly breathe
and nothing could quench the thirst. Every TroTro
that passed by was filled with people packed together,

crushed inside, trying to get where they needed

to goa stream of dilapidated, old vans full of
exhaust fumes, sweaty bodies, overbearing heat,
and smells of every sort. Everything felt so
crowded and so dirty that day. I was hot and tired
and missing my home in the United States and
feeling very much like the Ugly American.
R2: Dirt is a fact of material and political conditions, but too often it is cast as a moral flaw. The
World Health Organizations daily requirement
for water is 20 to 40 liters a day per person. In
Ghana for those without piped water system,
purchasing three buckets or 18 liters of water a
day cost between 10% and 20% of their average
daily income.
R1: As I waited, hoping a TroTro would stop where I
could squeeze into one empty seat and get back to
the quiet and solitude of my home, I looked down
the road a bit and saw a woman sitting over a
bucket of soapy water. There was a child at her
feet, she undressed the child and then placed him
in the bucket of water. She bathed the child in the
public market place . . . quiet and solitude for
her is a different reality than it is for me. I was
transfixed by what was more than just a woman
bathing a child outside on a hot day, but how the
ordinaryhow the day to dayis so strong and
healthy and impeccably resistant against the facts
of its own reality.
R2: Water-born diseases kill one child every eight
R1: As I watched the woman and child, suddenly, an
old man, appearing to be madhis hair matted,
with very dirty clothes and half dressedwalked
up to the woman. Without the least concern, she
simply brushed him away with a wave of her hand
and continued to bathe the child. The man, undeterred, stumbled toward the bucket and began to
take off his clothes while attempting to step into the
soapy water. Immediately, two young men standing
next to me at the TroTro stop quickly walked over
to the old man and with such sincere gentleness and
gracious respect, helped the old man put his clothes
on and guided him back him down the road.
R2: In sub-Saharan Africa, 70% of deaths and diseases
are due to the lack of clean and accessible water.
The majority of women and children in rural areas
travel miles in the morning and evening for water
that remains infected with water born diseases.
R1: The woman paying no mind to the old man . . . no
mind to anyone or anything elsekept her willful
attention on her child and their ritual. This small
moment, in a small, crowded space of heat, sweat,

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Cultural Studies Critical Methodologies 11(2)

and smells, was claimedtaken backby a Water
Rite between mother and child. Pristine, Real and
Resistant. Kweku will come. I will eventually find
water today. And this search over time will come
again, and again, and it will eventually become
another, a different kind, of Water Rite. But, I wonder
sometimes about the old man.
The purpose of this scene was to demonstrate how
ethnographic reflexivity is manifest at multiple time zones
each discovering and pondering different and simultaneous
problems and memories (Johnson, 2008; 2009). Each reality
combines and competes with the other to supplement what
was lived and thought to be known and experienced in the
field. The performative-I brings these reflexivities to the stage
converging them into a temporal or unitary moment of
performance so that the political economy of water is made
material through enactment for the hope toward a futurity
where water democracy is possible.

I am arguing that to be reflexive is also an act of labor when
it self-consciously embraces a purpose toward a greater
material freedom for others, beyond and extricable to the
self, to enter a caravan of border crossings and discursive
risksbeautifully, poetically, rhetorically, and politically
(Gale & Wyatt, 2010; Reed-Danahay, 1997; Rivera-Servera,
2009; Spry, 2001). The aesthetic/epistemic double bind is no
longer a double bind, but a fluid horizon that is expected and
necessary. Poetics, knowledge, dreams, repetitions, and even
our mistakes and stumbles are all reciprocally linked now to
constitute a kind of reflexivity that is willfully about the
socialabout the self made gloriously and ingloriously
through Othersthat falls within what Spry and Pollock
articulate as performative-I/performative I. Using my ethnography of water democracy in Ghana, it was through these
articulations that I employed reflexivity to do the work (a) of
rhetorically illuminating the materiality and globality with
the political economies of privatization, (b) of embodying a
utopian aesthetics toward potential futurity and alliances
across difference as a radical democratic principle, and (c) of
embracing the performative to remake time, to adhere to
radical contingencies, and to bend or stretch or throw away
or illumine how I contemplate my own contemplations and
the knowledges that give them value. Inspired by Pollock and
Sprys discreetly different articulations of the performative
and the I, this was all an act of labor for myself and for
others. As Chang (2010) reminds us, labor becomes truly
critical when it is shared.
Declaration of Conflicting Interests
The author(s) declared no potential conflicts of interests with
respect to the authorship and/or publication of this article.

The author(s) received no financial support for the research and/or
authorship of this article.

1. Pollock and Spry are referring to different articulations of the
self or the I. Della Pollock, within the context of writing, refers
to a performative I. However, Tami Spry, within the context
of autoethnography, refers to a performative-I. Because of our
focus on reflexivity, as it specifically relates to qualitative res
earch and ethnography, from this point on I will be primarily
referring to Sprys Performative-I.
2. I use the pronoun him here because Big Daddy comes, as
Gingrich-Philbrook notes, out of a conservative, albeit, regressive form of family values and patriarchy.
3. Political economy, generally understood, as the interaction
between politics and economicsinteractions that cross local,
national, and global boundarieseffecting both the micro
and macro, the local and the global, domains of social, civic,
and cultural life. Neoliberal ideology, as it is constituted by
neoconservative policies, has set off a chain of hardships as
education, health, local poverty reduction efforts and other
social service mechanisms are weakened and jeopardized; as
farming, small business, and indigenous income-generating
traditions are diminished; and as free trade policies exploit the
human labor, natural resources, and struggles for economic
equity while profits from corrupt African leaders pile up stolen currency into European banks. Two brief points clarify the
connections between neoliberalism and human rights relative
to root causes. First, liberal commonly refers to someone
who endorses government support for domestic programs and
progressive taxes, who is prolabor, and is critical of big business. Liberal in these terms is not the same as neoliberalism or
neoliberal. Neoliberalism can often function in opposition to
the general liberal principals listed above. Neoliberalism and
neoliberal are more aligned with neoconservative, a principal
which at its core is a philosophical commitment to individualism within politics, economics, and society where government
regulations and social welfare assistance are impediments to
individual freedom. Neoliberalism is an ideology that human
wellbeing is better served by liberating individual entrepreneurial freedoms and skills within structures and institutions
that generate, promote, and sustain strong property rights, free
markets, and free trade, all of which takes precedence over the
interest of labor, social services, and local entrepreneurship.
Second, neoliberal policies have created an economic situation in poor and developing countries that protects private
property rights and ensures that capitalist markets can operate
without state interference. Global restructuring with IMF and
World Bank mandates over the past 30 years have resulted in
states having to reduce and sometimes abolish governmental
assistance for labor, health care, education, housing, and emp
loyment to satisfy the requirements of private investors who

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have no interest in the populations of the country. This global

restructuring has increased poverty and broadened economic
inequalities across the worldthe rich have grown richer and
the poor have grown poorer.
Inspired by my fieldwork in Ghana on the human right to
water, I directed a performance entitled Water Rites on the
campus of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill,
Studio Six for five nights in March 2006. The posters and
announcements for Water Rites described it as a multi-media
performance on the politics and poetics of water. Water Rites
explored water democracy and our human relationship with
water through a montage of digital imagery, comic satire,
dramatic monologue, and stylized movement. Water Rites
reflected how we all perform water rites in our everyday
lives and how these rites variously pervade our lives and culture. Water Rites performed the questions, What is your first
memory of water? Does anyone have the right to own
water? Are water wars still taking place in the twenty-first
century? What is the connection between local water and
global profit? Included in the announcement for the show was
a quote from Ismail Serageldin (former vice president of the
World Bank, 1995) when he said, If the wars of the twentieth
century were fought over oil, the wars of this century will be
fought over water. In weaving performance, fieldwork data,
personal reflection, and theoretical analysis, Act II becomes a
multicited, multivocal, and multispatial account of the human
right to water, water activism, and everyday water rituals.
This story comes from Ann-Christin Sjolander Hollands
(2005) The Water Business: Corporations Versus People (see
The utopian or utopian performance draws on both Jill Dolan
and Jose Esteban Munozs notion of utopia in live performance. Munoz (2005) describes utopian performance as . . .
blueprints of a world not quite here, a horizon of possibility,
not a fixed schema (p. 9). Dolan (2005) states, Utopia in performance argues that live performance provides a place where
people come together, embodied and passionate, to share experiences of meaning making and imagination that can describe
or capture fleeting intimations of a better world (p. 3).
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D. Soyini Madison is professor of performance studies and
anthropology, and served as interim director of the Program in
African Studies at Northwestern University. She is the author of
Acts of Activism: Human Rights as Radical Performance (2010,
Cambridge University Press); Critical Ethnography: Method,
Ethics, and Performance (2005, SAGE) and the coeditor with
Judith Hamera of the Sage Handbook of Performance Studies
(2006, SAGE). Madison lived in West Africa as a senior Fulbright
Scholar and has conducted field research over the past 10 years on
the performance tactics of local human rights activists in Ghana.

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