restricted access Introduction
In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

1 Introduction The field research for this book has taken me to a simulated terrorist training camp in the Utah mountains, mock Afghan villages at military bases in Canada and the UK, a fictional Mexico-­ US border run in Hidalgo, Mexico, and an immersive tour for settlers at a First Nations reserve on the Manitoba-­ Ontario border in Canada. My travels to these sites have been guided by one overarching research question: how are immersions used as a means of deepening understanding across cultural difference? As a corollary to that question I ask whether the first-­ person experiential encounters afforded by the immersion could lead to meaningful cross-­ cultural encounters . The ethnographic travels undertaken for this book are, to be sure, a shameless form of academic tourism: my visits to these places of “the other”1 are temporary and voluntary, made possible by complex structures of power and privilege. But this form of academic tourism is both unavoidable and methodologically germane. These sites are, after all, designed as transient experiences for visitors who only temporarily occupy them, largely in the contexts of training and tourism—­ consensual acts of contained transgression organized around a set of desired pedagogical effects. In each one of these excursions, I continued to come up against the limits of the immersions’ purported educational effects and, by extension, those of performance more broadly: namely, that they offer pathways to experiential and empathic understanding of the cultural “other.” The claim is a familiar one. For a recent articulation of this argument, we could turn to Tracey Moore’s disputation “Why Theatre Majors Are Vital in the Digital Age”: Algorithms recommend music based on what we’re already listening to, books similar to others we’ve read, and “friends” from among people we already know. As a result, we are less frequently confronted by the other, the unknown, the different. Stanislavsky’s technique requires a thorough study of a character’s situation—­ whether geographic location or state of physical health—­ and asks that actors explore the effects of those circumstances on their own 2 immersions in cultural difference selves. In a semester, a college actor will play multiple characters, stretching to inhabit another psyche, another intellect, another body. It’s a veritable empathy boot camp.2 Moore makes the case that theater training, as a “veritable empathy boot camp,” is uniquely positioned to foster an understanding of “the other, the unknown, the different.” But the limits and potential dangers of this assumption are imbedded in her own description of the Stanislavskian enterprise as one that asks the actor to study the character’s situation in order to “explore the effects of those circumstances on their own selves.” If the self, in other words, is always already an organizing principle and point of return in the experience of difference; if, for these reasons, empathy unavoidably entails a “consumption of the other,” as Megan Boler puts it,3 might the claims about performance’s pedagogical potential be better put as a claim that makes apparent, in critically productive terms, all that we cannot claim to know, to “inhabit,” or to understand about cultural others? The stakes of this question about the limits of knowing are particularly high given the principal interests of this book, which focus on immersions that stage cultural encounters within the contexts of military training and tourism. I see these sites as forms of intercultural rehearsal theater, a phrase that places the notion of “rehearsal theater,” in the tradition of Augusto Boal’s socially engaged and solution-­ oriented participatory theater, in conversation with interculturalism in order to identify how these immersions function as performative sites of negotiation between cultures. As Ric Knowles asserts, interculturalism offers an opportunity to “focus on the contested, unsettling, and often unequal spaces between cultures, spaces that can function as performative sites of negotiation.”4 Immersive simulations, as environments that allow for “live,” face-­ to-­ face encounters between participants unfolding in a shared space and “real” time,5 can be very charged sites of cultural negotiation, particularly when they are tasked with the objective of cross-­ cultural knowledge creation or, in the military’s terms, “Cultural Intelligence” building. For participants, the immersion’s educational efficacy can be seductive since the experiential “tastes” it offers carry a persuasive form of “sensory veracity,” to borrow Dylan Robinson’s phrase, that the body cannot deny.6 My analyses of these sites are drawn toward the presumptive intimacies and knowledges these immersions both foster and unsettle with respect...

  • You have access to this content
  • Free sample
  • Open Access
  • Restricted Access