Interview with Kurt Lindemann, PhD

Professor Kurt Lindemann, PhD, is the Director of the Center for the Study of Media and Performance (CSMP). He also serves as the Director of Graduate Study in the Communication Department at San Diego State University (SDSU). His teaching interests include performance studies, ethnography, critical theory, and organizational communication.His work focuses on communicative performances of identity in organizational and mediated contexts, and he has adapted his research on men’s narratives of grief for stage in numerous performance venues.

The following is a short interview with Dr. Lindemann about his work and teaching at SDSU. (For the purpose of brevity, the interviewer’s questions have been abbreviated.)

Kurt ASU Performance Kneeling 2 ES photos 2012 500

Could you tell us a little bit about your research?

I come to performance from a Performance Studies tradition, which is grounded in—well, for me it is grounded in the Communication Department where I got my PhD. But it’s similar to the Northwestern School and Dwight Conquergood’s approach to performance. So my research takes that approach to Performance Studies, and examines the way that identity is performed or enacted both on stage, in personal narratives, but also in nontraditional organizations like sports teams for example. So a lot of my research has to do—well, my early research has to do with the performance of disability in sports organizations. So how do men, primarily, perform masculinity in the context of wheelchair sports. So that was my… although I do have experience in theatre, and I was a theatre undergrad major, and I’ve done a lot of performing and directing and adapting, that’s where my scholarship intersects with performance.

Adaptation of scholarly research into performance?

I’ve done that in several instances both with adaptation of literature like poetry to performance, and the adaptation of personal narrative in interviews to performances as well—both my own and other people’s.

Are all scholarly researches performable? What’s the importance of performing research?

That’s a good question. I do think all scholarly research is potentially performable. There is a branch in Performance Studies called performative writing, which is not traditional scholarly research but it’s a combination of maybe personal narratives, scholarly research, creative writing on fiction, possibly poetry. And that’s meant to be a performance on the page. But, in terms of adapting and performing other scholarly research, I think potentially yes. An advantage to that is you can disseminate that research to a wider audience who may not read a scholarly article. So I think it makes it more accessible as well.

Could you tell us a little more about performing disability in the classroom? What is critical ethnographic performance?

Critical ethnographic performance is when in the classroom, let’s say, students might gather ethnographic data through interviews, maybe participant observations, maybe it’s their own story of that research process as well. And then critically reflect on that in the process of adapting it for the goal of performing it for a wider audience. So it’s like the performance of ethnographic data.

In one of your articles you mentioned critical ethnographic performance as a social critique?

The way I approach ethnographic research is always from a critical perspective. So I encourage my students to do the same, whether they do ethnography to question power structures or gender norms or ability/disability… those are few examples. But in that way I think it does function as social critiques.

How to make the educational setting, and CSMP in particular, more accessible to people with disabilities?

In terms of accessibilities there are several concerns. Practical concerns of making performances accessible with Sign Language interpreters, for example, if we need to. But the wider question of making it relevant, I think what we do is already relevant in the sense that we really explore the ways that—let’s say—identity is embodied. So that way of getting people to critically reflect on the notion of ability, I think that it works its way into a wider examination of dis/ability, and will hopefully will prompt audience to reflect on their own notions of ability. So I think the interesting thing about Disability Studies, especially from a communication and performance perspective is that you may not necessarily have to study disability in order to engender the audience that sort of critical reflection of those concepts: the body and ability, and that sort of thing. And certainly it’s not the performance project of everyone to directly address the disability but I think that avenue will be open for people who wish to do so. I think in the performances we do and maybe the talkback that happens with the audience afterwards, bringing up questions after that, even though the performance doesn’t directly address it will sort of satisfy that goal.

This semester (Fall 2017) you have been in collaboration with Dr. Shelley Orr, another CSMP Faculty and professor in the Theatre Arts Department, and her Dramaturgy class on a project. Could you tell us more about that?

That’s a project that was initially proposed as part of the Arts Alive collaborative teaching exchange, where you take two different classes from different schools, and you merge them together, in sort of a project for the public good. So in this case, what we are doing under the larger umbrella of the SDSU Sage Project is to help the city leaders of Lemon Grove, who’s our partner city for Sage for the next two years, to address some of the concerns they have. Particularly with regards to homeless outreach and place-making—how people of Lemon Grove might construct a meaning of place, and home, and make sense of the historical relevance or significance of the City of Lemon Grove which is itself a very historical city in context of the San Diego County. So my students are going to go out and gather ethnographic data and work with Professor Orr’s students to adapt that data for performance.

This is going to happen within the span of one semester?

Yes. One semester accommodating a couple of presentations/performances.

How does the class work?

We teach our classes separately. We have crossover classes, four or five times this semester. And the students of my class and students of her class that are paired up together will meet outside of class.

What will the theme next semester? Is it going to continue to feature on Lemon Grove?

I’m not sure if we’re doing it next semester. It depends on the success of this semester and the ability of Arts Alive to support that project again. But if it does, I imagine the goals of the specific projects will probably change.


  • For more information about Dr. Lindemann and his work, visit his personal webpage.
  • To know more about the Arts Alive collaborative teaching exchange class, contact Dr. Lindemann or Dr. Orr from the Theatre Department.


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