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D. Soyini Madison

Professor Emerita; Professor of Performance Studies and African Studies

PhD Northwestern University 1989

Research and teaching interests

Social Movements/Activism and Radical Performance; Critical Performance Ethnography; Public Culture; Black Diaspora Studies; Postcolonial Theory/Film/Fiction; Staging Oral History and Memory.


D. Soyini Madison focuses on the intersections of local activism, the political economy of human rights, and indigenous performance tactics. Her latest book, Acts of Activism: Human Rights and Radical Performance, is based on how local activists in Ghana, West Africa employ modes of performance, as tactical interventions, in their day-to-day struggles for women’s rights, water democracy, and economic justice. Madison is interested in how applying a performance analytic, to local and public acts of activism, generates a poetics of understanding and an embodied epistemology concerning how activism is constituted, its dimensions of imagination and creativity, and its rhetoric and politics.

In Madison’s research and applied work on indigenous activism in South-Saharan Africa, she also teaches and writes extensively on “critical performance ethnography.”   By combining conventional ethnography with performance theory as well as an explicitly critical and rhetorical purpose, Madison translates and directs her ethnographic data for the public stage. It is through the public staging of ethnographic data where principles of advocacy, publicity, and ethics are further examined in her published work. Madison’s staged work includes: I Have My Story to Tell, a performance reflecting the oral histories of University of Carolina laborers and service workers; Mandela, the Land, and the People, a performance based on the life and work of Nelson Mandela; Is It a Human Being or A Girl? a performance ethnography on traditional religion, modernity, and a political economy women’s poverty; and, Water Rites a multi-media performance on the privatization of public water and the struggle for clean and accessible water as a human right.

Madison’s current research examines the performance tactics of particular transnational, labor Union movements, within the black Diaspora, and the oral histories of Union leadership that reflect specific public demonstrations of labor justice and disputes. Black Diaspora labor movements will include Great Britain, Kenya, South Africa, and the United States.

Professor Madison has won numerous honors and awards, including the Tanner University Award at Chapel Hill for “Outstanding and Inspirational Teaching,” the National Communication Association, “Spotlight on Scholars,” The J. William Fulbright Senior Scholar Award, The Rockefeller Foundation Bellagio Research Award.

Recent courses taught

  • Part 1: Theories in Critical Performance Ethnography
  • Part 2: Methods in Critical Performance Ethnography
  • Postcolonial Theory, Film and Fiction
  • Human Rights and Radical Performance
  • Political Economy of Performance
  • Oral History and Performance
  • Perspectives in Theatre for Development
  • Black Diaspora Literature and Performance

Selected publications


2010  Acts of Activism: Human Rights as Radical Performance. Cambridge University Press.

2005  Critical Ethnography: Method, Performance, and Ethics. Sage Publications.

2005  Sage Handbook of Performance Studies. Co-edited with Judith Hamera. Sage Publications.

1994 The Woman That I Am: Literature and Culture of Contemporary Women of Color. St. Martin’s Press.

African Dress Encounters: Fashion, Agency, Power. Co-edited with Karen Tranberg Hansen. University of Chicago Press (in review, projected publication, Fall 2011).

Refereed essays and book chapters

2010  “Staging Fieldwork/Performing Human Rights,” Reading in Rhetoric and Performance. Eds. S.O. Gencarrella and P.C. Pezzullo. Routledge

2009 “Angry (Post)Black Women and Crazy Patriotism”  Journal of Communication and Critical/Cultural Studies. Routledge

2008 “Narrative Poetics and Performantive Interventions,” The Handbook of Critical Indigenous Methodologies. Eds. N. Denzin and Y. Lincoln. Sage Publications

2007 “Performance Ethnography: The Political Economy of Water,” Performance Research: Journal of the Performing Arts. Routledge

2007 “Co-Performative Witnessing,” Journal of Cultural Studies. Routledge

2006 “The Particularity of The Dialogic Performative,” Text and Performance Quarterly. Routledge

2005  “Critical Ethnography as Street Performance: Reflections of Home, Race, Murder and Justice in Ghana, West Africa,” Handbook of Qualitative Research. Eds. N. Denzin and Y. Lincoln. Sage Publications

2005 “Performing Theory/Embodied Writing” in Opening Acts. Ed. J. Hamera. Sage Publications. (Re-print)

2005 “My Desire is for the Poor to Speak Well of Me,” Remembering: Performance and Oral History. Ed. D. Pollock. Palgrave/Macmillian.

2002 “That Was My Occupation: Oral Narratives, Performance, and Black Feminist Thought” in African American Communication and Identities: Essential Readings. Ed. R. L. Jackson. Sage Publications. (Re-print)

2000 “Oedipus Rex at Eve’s Bayou or The Little Black Girl Who Left Sigmond Freud in the Swamp,” Journal of Cultural Studies. Routledge

Selected public performances of fieldwork, adapted and directed

2006 "Water Rites". Multimedia performance on the politics ad poetics of international water democracy movement. performed at University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Studio Six.

2004 "In Ghana" Staged narratives on the memories and legacy of Kwame Nkrumah.  Performed in Ghana, WEst Africa at the Kwame Nkrumah African Studies Outdoor Theatre and at the University of Ghana.

2002-2000 “Is It A Human Being or A Girl?” Staged local debates on traditional religious practices relative to women’s rights and political economy of poverty. The University of Ghana, Legon and the W.E.B. Dubois Outdoor Theatre in Accra, Summer 2000 and University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Studio Six in 2002.

Selected keynote and featured presentations

2010 “Acts of Activism and Radical Performance” Performance in Action Series, University of Texas at College Station.

2010 “Human Rights as Radical Performance,” Performance Studies and Qualitative Research, Ohio University, Athens Ohio.

2010 “Michelle Obama and Angry (Post) Black Women,” Speakers Series: Reading the Age of Obama, University of Texas at Austin.

2010 “The Obama Factor and Crazy Patriotism,” Qualitative Research in the Age of Obama, University of Illinois at Urbana.

2009 “Water and Human Rights: Staging Fieldwork,” Activism as Performance Series, University of Southern Illinois at Carbondale.

2008 “Radical Performance, Neoliberalism, and Human Rights” (Summer Institute-Center for Global Culture and Communication, School of Communication) Northwestern University, Evanston.

2007 “The White Girl Upstairs or Why Ethnography Matters,” Qualitative Inquiry in the Caribbean: Past, Present, and Future, University of West Indies, Mona-Kingston Jamaica.

2007 “Dangerous Ethnography and Utopian Performatives,” Congress of Qualitative Inquiry 2007, University of Illinois at Urbana.

2007 “Acts of Activism,” Community and Academia-Annual Graduate Student Conference, Hofstra University, Long Island, NY.

2007 “Activism, Human Rights, and Radical Performance,” Annual Abriendo Brecha Conference, University of Texas at Austin.

2007 “Scholarship As Activism,” Annual Cultural Studies Conference, Indiana University at Bloomington.

2006 “Performing Ethnography/Performing Human Rights: The Ethics and Interventions of Human rights in the Black Diaspora,” Performance Studies International #12, Queen Mary, University of London, United Kingdom.