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Title: The currency of distrust : performance, theatricality, and representative democracy
Author: Peetz, Julia
ISNI:       0000 0004 7960 9141
Awarding Body: University of Surrey
Current Institution: University of Surrey
Date of Award: 2019
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The Currency of Distrust examines the intersection of politics and performance through a focus on performances of the U.S. presidency. This research asks whether performance and theatricality should be seen as important functional elements, rather than mere embellishments or corrupting distractions, in representative democracy. Initially, the thesis furnishes a historically anchored argument for a conceptual move beyond the antitheatrical prejudice: positing the French Revolution and the perspective of the U.S. Founding Fathers as key moments, this research argues that distrust should be seen as a feature of, not a bug within, a representative system whose foundations are performative and theatrical. Using populism theory to examine the deployment of anti-establishment tropes in presidential performances, the thesis then asks how such performances might shift perceptions of legitimacy by positing performing politicians as authentic and incorruptible outsiders. This project is interdisciplinary both in its theoretical framework and its methods. It draws on theatre and performance theories of performativity, acting, and theatricality as well as on models of populism and political representation developed in political theory. Following the conceptual argument for the position of performance at the heart of representative democracy, the empirical implications of this argument are explored through a corpus of in-depth interviews with U.S. speechwriters spanning presidential administrations and campaigns from Ronald Reagan to Barack Obama. Drawing on the perspectives of those involved in crafting presidential performances, the empirical chapters investigate the significance of performance and theatricality to the institution of the U.S. presidency and the imperative to navigate and mobilise the distrust of political audiences. While positing that distrust inheres within a political system whose core is performance-based, the project thus moves towards an inquiry of what is at stake as this distrust increasingly becomes an explicit focal point around which the theatre of politics revolves.
Supervisor: Alston, Adam ; Usherwood, Simon ; Duggan, Patrick Sponsor: University of Surrey
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral