For over two decades, my work has been situated at the crossroads of cultural critique, performance, the politics of bodies, and the poetics of knowledge. You could call it ‘performance sociology.’ But it’s a sociology that insists on its own undoing—a sociology-at-the-margins that incorporates the postdisciplinary and antidisciplinary forces animating insurgent knowledge production within the U.S. academy. It’s a sociology cut up by encounters with dada, collage aesthetics, and Kathy Acker’s insistent experimentation. It’s a sociology that sees itself as a social practice, and a form of public culture. At the heart of my work is an analysis of contemporary power, and a commitment to address and transform the effects of power in everyday life. Approaching my writing as simultaneously a theoretical, political, and performative project, I play seriously with how to re-present social knowledge beyond the disciplining authority of science and the really, empirically ‘real.’ Performing a critical, creative sociology in multiply mediated dimensions—image, sound, text, and voice—also makes openings toward the messy, necessary questions of who gets to make collective memories and what gets to count as public knowledge.

The research focus of much of my work emerged out of my own biographics: the experience of floating attacks of terror, diagnosed as ‘panic disorder’ in the late 1980s and treated by a daily dose of small white pills. Out of this embodied origin, a research agenda organized around questions of bodies and power, the technoscientific management of disorder, and the cultural politics of fear and terror, took shape. Methods for addressing these issues include experiments with ethnographic surrealism, archival research, interviewing, and a radically socialized psychoanalysis. My story of the cultural history of panicked bodies became, at the same time, an analysis of the cultural history of the post-World War II U.S. social sciences as phantasmatic, symptomatic theaters of social realism. I use performative writing techniques and live performance work to interrogate this ‘styleless’ style of social scientific objectivity, and to conjure the possibility of other forms of sociological storytelling. Of other less controlling, more contagious, forms of social dis-ease and desire. My current work focuses on the intensified PSYCHOpolitics of securitization, simulation, and digitization that are today producing both new cultures of perception and new capacities for violence. How to engage the seductions and articulate the dangers of such contemporary transformations? How to imagine and enchant other possible worlds?

While still indebted to the provocations of a range of intellectual interventions over the last thirty years, my work today as a teacher, writer, and performer is equally informed by the uncertain failings and sustained disorientation of many critical intellectual projects in the U.S. at the beginning of this rather catastrophic century. As any panicky theorist knows, there’s nothing new about catastrophe, or state-sponsored violence and everyday fear. But I do look forward to stumbling my way towards other, as-yet-unimagined practices of collective critical analysis and creative agency that respond inventively to the urgency of this historical moment, and to the felt inadequacies of our work done so far.

Copyright © Jackie Orr 2006