Performance Ethnography

Staged Reading: "Three Women (Break The Silence)"

A staged reading of Dr. Jolaosho's ethnographic play was held in Johannesburg at the renowned Market Theatre Lab.

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Blog Post

How Movements Like #MeToo Can Address Marginalization, Isolation, and Alienation Among Activists: Bringing Our Bodies Back In

With the Women’s March, and #MeToo drawing gender-based activism to the fore in the US and across the globe, how can we foster the desired personal and societal transformations that usher in the more equitable world we proclaim?

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Digital Anthropology

The Freedom Sung Project

Dr. Jolaosho's digital anthropology project, an interactive website examining the prominence of performance in South African protests will soon launch.

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scroll down for Dr. Jolaosho's bio

Omotayo Jolaosho, PhD

I am a socio-cultural anthropologist and software engineer who has a background in performance and integrated arts. My scholarship focuses on the interdisciplinary intersections of performance, politics, and embodiment. Since 2007, I have worked in South Africa investigating the role of embodied performance within activist collectives opposing neoliberal state economic policies. Between 2009 and 2010, I was in Johannesburg pursuing fieldwork with a social movement organization called the Anti-Privatisation Forum, investigating its internal dynamics and public contestations through a performance lens. That research has yielded a number of journal articles and is the basis of my current book project, You Can’t Go to War Without Song: Performance and Community Mobilization in Post-Apartheid South Africa.

Among its interventions, You Can’t Go to War Without Song advances feminist political theory by elaborating the dissonance between activist practices and avowed commitments to gender equity. Complex gender dynamics structured the participation of activists within the social movement the book examines. Although women activists constituted a majority of the membership of the movement, contributing numbers and vibrancy to protest demonstrations, their numbers were not well represented in leadership structures, which were male-dominated. In their gendered interventions, they inaugurated different modes of activist practice, emphasizing healing, communal support and personal transformation over seeking token representation among movement leadership or combative engagement. Their embodied practices offer a reconceptualization of mobilization that is attuned to activists’ rallying of their individual bodies and intersubjective bonds as they participated in collective action.

Myself a performer, I am developing a one-woman show based on interviews with these women activists. The development process continues to reveal performance to be a site of transmitting and transcending knowledge in that I continue to uncover critical dimensions of activists’ experiences that had been easily overlooked in prior analytical categories.

My research has been supported by grants and fellowships from, among other sources, the U.S. Department of Education (Fulbright-Hays DDRA), the National Science Foundation (NSF-GRF and NSF-DDIG), the Social Science Research Council (IDRF), a postdoctoral fellowship from the Center for Research in the Humanities at the University of California, Merced, and the Florida Education Fund's McKnight Junior Faculty Development Fellowship.

Read more about my publications below.

Featured Publications

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As an educator, I am committed to fostering the principles of diversity, open-mindedness, balance, and engagement that have been so important to my undergraduate and graduate training. I am committed to building rapport with my students in a way that establishes our pedagogical process together as one of collaboration. This approach draws extensively from my training as an anthropologist to understand others on their own terms. Rather than imposing my interpretations in the classroom, I believe that knowledge acquired in a course is sustained when students make their own connections and discoveries. My role is to facilitate the interchanges that make such connections and discoveries possible.

An accumulative and experiential approach is central to my teaching style. I believe that learning occurs when students apply and connect new materials to their lives through experiential activities that encourage reflection. To facilitate the cultivation of new knowledge that connects to and sometimes challenges students’ prior experiences, I use engaged discussions that enable students to contribute their own perspectives. I encourage activation—when students are thinking and feeling—through experiential activities involving role-playing and three-dimensional modeling of ideas. Moments of confusion or disagreement present teaching opportunities as learning often occurs through clarifying and synthesizing divergent views. Experiential activities involving collaborative problem solving and creative projects aid in knowledge retention. Through such activities, students engage their sensory faculties more fully and learn actively by doing.

Courses Taught

University of South Florida (2015 - Present)

  • "Introduction to the Black Experience In Africa and the Diaspora"
  • "How #BlackLivesMatter: Precarity and Protest in Global Perspective" (Graduate Seminar)
  • "Culture and Society in Africa" (online)
  • "Graduate Seminar on Contemporary Africa"

University of California, Merced (2013 - 2015)

  • "Performance, Ritual & Play"
  • "The Body and Embodiment" (Graduate Seminar)

Rutgers University, Dept. of Anthropology (2011 - 2013)

  • "Introduction to Anthropology"
  • "Anthropology of Performance"
  • "Ritual, Performance, and Play"
  • "Visual Anthropology"

Performance Ethnography

Three Women (Break The Silence)

A work of verbatim and documentary theatre

Written by Omotayo Jolaosho, based on interviews and fieldwork with activists in Johannesburg, South Africa

Directed by Vernice P. Miller

Three Women (Break the Silence) is a theatrical performance augmented by collective song. It examines the distinct experiences of vulnerability within activist collectives through the lives of women members of Remmoho and Johannesburg’s Anti-Privatisation Forum (APF). A work of documentary and verbatim theatre, Three Women takes its shape from freedom songs, field notes, and interviews I conducted while working with the APF in 2009 and 2010. In June 2018, a staged reading of Three Women was presented at Johannesburg’s renowned Market Theatre Laboratory. In collaboration with Jamaican-born director Vernice Miller, artists of Market Theatre Lab made up the play’s very vocal ensemble. Together, the performers address what it means to find one’s voice amidst gendered repression and urge us to “break the silence” regarding women’s bodily and sexual autonomy.

Given current public discourse in South Africa and more globally on consent and sexual autonomy, it is all the more important to attune to the varied experiences of women. Three Women, as a work of theatre, highlights such experiences in a non-didactic way, seeking instead to open audiences to further dialogue and inquiry.


Digital Anthropology

Freedom Sung Logo

Coming Soon

“The Freedom Sung Project” is an interactive exhibit that examines the prominence of dynamically embodied performances—involving the integration of freedom songs with protest dances—within activist collectives for social change in South Africa. The project draws from over 1200 photographs and 120 footage hours of unedited interviews and coverage of collective rallies that took place in Johannesburg (2009-2010). These events sought to counter the violence and invisibility experienced by impoverished and politically marginalized communities in their struggles to secure their lives. In the project’s iterations, image, movement, sound, emotions, history, and politics converge.