Guest Lecture by Lisa Björkman

Natak: political theatre and political deceit in Mumbai

All interested are invited to attend the next lecture on "Infrastructure" by Lisa Björkman from the University of Louisville. She will talk about theatricality and performativity as an idiom of political speech and representation and her study of political assemblies in Mumbai. Please find the speaker's abstract below.

Time: 01 July 2019, 5-7pm Location: Lecture hall 4, auditorium building, Universitätsstrasse 3

 Speaker's Anstract: This talk is about cash-compensated crowds that assemble for political gatherings - protest marches, road blocks, campaign rallies – in the Indian city of Mumbai. Popular and scholarly discourse tends to dismiss paid crowds as inauthentic, even fraudulent forms of political assembly. This research instead explores cash-compensated crowds as instances of political utterance and representation, probing the dueling moral registers by means of which the theatrical character of political life in Mumbai is evaluated: as either political theatre or political deceit. On some occasions, cashcompensated mass assembly are characterized as “meaningless” and as “only natak” (drama, theatre) – suggesting a normative understanding of what a “meaningful” political rally should be. But in othercontexts, we see that it is precisely its very theatrical quality that renders a rally compelling or convincing at all. The talk will outline when – in what contexts - natak is evaluated as a compelling idiom of political utterance, communication and representation, and when political theatre is described as ‘only natak’ – a disdainful dismissal that suggests that something is only theatrical when it ought not to be – or indeed is pretending not to be. Taking theatricality and performance seriously as an idiom of political speech and representation, the accounts suggest, may offer one way out of the impasses of post-truth political present where political communication tends to be either evaluated for its truth value or else dismissed as lies. Attending to explicitly theatrical dimensions of political life calls attention to a richer array of ideas and moral-evaluative frameworks.


Annette Veit
 Tel + 49 341 97 37 220
Fax + 49 341 97 37 229
Office Hours:
10 am - 11 am
1 pm - 2 pm


Ursula Rao
 +49 341 97 37 221
Institut für Ethnologie
Schillerstraße 6
04109 Leipzig