- Anachronistic Enactment: Deconstructing Perceptions of Modern Technology
This article describes the practice of Anachronistic Enactment – a performative approach by which we may gain a better understand of societal perceptions of, attitudes to and uses of modern technology. Part free-form roleplay, part focused socio-technical enquiry, this approach aims to deconstruct the present day by reflecting on the past.
In practical terms, this is achieved through the re-creation of modern technological devices (with their associated modern functionality), using the materials and processes of a previous era. Using these “historically mutated” devices, it is possible to undertake the roles of their operators within socially performative spaces. The combination of device and operator role enactment comprise a performative technological probe that offers us insight into society’s perceptions and understanding of technology, its history and evolution.
We can gain much from theoretical activities of thought and reflection; however, only through real world actions can we gain true insight. Only by “doing” can we truly understand. To this end we make use of the practices and processes of historical re-enactment to understand hypothetical characters and their relationships with technologies that might once have existed.
The primary purpose of traditional re-enactment is to accurately and faithfully recreate the events and experiences of the past. Our objectives are slightly different – we aim to experience an alternative present. As Adams and Thomas 1 have observed, re-enactment can help us to rethink the present by allowing us to ask how things might have transpired differently. It is exactly this kind of effect, with reference to technological understanding, that we wish to achieve with our use of re-enactment strategies.
Anachronistic Enactment is not just an individual activity, but a social experiment where an audience is taken on a journey of exploration. In order to fully support this process, the enactment must take place embedded in an interactive social context. The enactments described are thus undertaken in playful, real-world contexts, allowing exploration to take place from the perspective of both the role enactor as well as members of the audience. To this end, enactments take place in nightclubs, burlesque events, cabaret performances and festivals – all examples of what Sheridan 2 refers to as “Playful Arenas”. These are fun environments that encourage performance and play that provide a suitable balance of organisation and structure with a level of informality to allow fluid audience engagement and experimentation.
Ethno-masquerade is a strategy that has been used by numerous anthropologists, ethnographers and travel writers. These have included the likes of Lady Mary Wortley Montagu 3, Grace Ellison 4 and Richard F. Burton 5. Ethno-masquerade involves the performance of an alternative identity through mimicking or clothes, gesture, appearance, language, cultural codes etc. In all of the cited cases the author’s primary aim is to gain acceptance and thereby privileged access to previously in-accessible experience.
There is a secondary, and from our perspective more relevant consequence of undertaking ethno-masquerade. It has the effect of placing the author in a unique position with respect to his or her readership. Of Lady Mary Wortley Montagu, Konuk writes “Her fellow citizens constitute the main audience of her ethnoreligious performance and are the ones who ultimately affirm its credibility” 6. The author is placed in a unique position – being given access to privileged experience, but remaining independent and impartial – an unbiased observer in the scenes that unfold.
The masquerader attains an almost scientific detachment and impartiality from the contexts being experienced and recounted, yet still maintains his or her credentials as an authority. Whether or not the masquerader retains true impartiality is a matter for debate. What is important however is their perceived position from the perspective of the audience. It is in this role, as privileged guide, that we draw inspiration from ethno-masqueraders. The insight and impartiality with which individuals are able to guide an audience are enviable commodities in respect to our aims and chosen methodology.
In order to present a convincing masquerade, we must develop suitable characterizations within a plausible back-plot narrative. This narrative must provide a reasonable (even if clearly fictitious) explanation the enactor’s presence...