Another Kind of Work: Cultural Capital, Performance, and LGBTQ Communities

Canadian Association for Theatre Research / Association Canadienne de la Recherche Théâtrale Conference, May 30th – June 2nd University of Ottawa

Coordinators: J. Paul Halferty (University College Dublin) and Stephen Low (Cornell University

In Jenny Livingston’s documentary film, Paris is Burning, an MC commenting on the performance of a contestant in the category “Town and Country” proclaims, “O-P-U-L-E-N-C-E! OPULENCE! You own everything! Everything is yours!” The irony of the statement is that most of the queer African-American and Latino people, who produce and participate in the drag balls that are the subject of Livingston’s film, are economically and culturally marginalized. The “ball children,” as they are called, “own” very little as they have been systemically disadvantaged within a racist, misogynist, trans- and homophobic society. And yet, within the subcultural world of the ball forms of capital and modes of exchange, meaning, and value are enacted, performed, and owned. In addition to the tangible trophies that participants can win, forms of celebrity, of being “legendary,” particular skills, talents, and knowledge are accrued and exploited. Indeed, the film itself participates (not unproblematically) in these processes.

Since before Stonewall and the era of gay liberation and civil rights, LGBTQ individuals have established unique modes of non-monetary forms of exchange. These practices continue in current moment, when queers are increasingly visible in all areas of society, and often associated with particular talents, proclivities, and forms of cultural knowledge. Inspired by these diverse queer cultural practices, and Pierre Bourdieu’s theory of “cultural capital,” this curated panel invites papers that address how LGBTQ theatres and performances function as modes through which various forms of cultural capital are enacted, accumulated, exchanged, and exploited. Taking queer practices and the concept of “cultural capital” as a point of departure, this panel asks:

  • How does cultural capital function within LGBTQ communities, especially through theatre and performance practices?
  • How do LGBTQ individuals exploit various forms of cultural capital in normative, late-capitalist societies?
  • How has the cultural capital of theater and performance increased, decreased, and/or shifted the cultural capital of LGBTQ communities over time?
  • Or to frame it in the terms of the conference theme, “Capital Ideas,” how have ideas about who queers are been performatively effected and how do these relate to discourses of cultural capital?
  • How has the rise of queer theory affected forms of academic capital and performance?

Interested parties please email a 250-word paper proposal and 150-word bio to J. Paul Halferty ( and Stephen Low ( by January 15th 2015.