Performance raises fundamental issues about bodily praxis, human agency, temporality, and discursive knowledge and calls into question conventional understandings of tradition, repetition, mechanical reproduction, and ontological definitions of social order and reality. Across academic disciplines and across modes of production, however, performance is a contested concept, “meaning that its very existence is bound up in disagreement about what it is, and that disagreement over its essence is itself part of that essence” (Strine, Long, and HopKins, 1989: 183). In other words, performance has no precisely agreed upon definition. Rather it varies in scope and import from one academic discipline to another and from one practitioner, or human agent, to another.
In the emerging field of performance studies, performance is open-ended, but it privileges process, the temporally or processually constructed nature of human realities, and the agency of knowledgeable performers who have embodied particular techniques and styles to accomplish it (M. Drewal, 1989b; Conquergood, 1989). In the broadest sense, performance is the praxis of everyday social life; indeed, it is the practical application of embodied skill and knowledge to the task of taking action. Performance is thus a fundamental dimension of culture as well as the production of knowledge about culture. It might include anything from individual agents' negotiations of everyday life, to the stories people tell each other, popular entertainments, political oratory, guerrilla warfare, to bounded events such as theater, ritual, festivals, parades, and more.