Jon McKenzie and DesignLab

Jon-McKenzieHead of the Digital Humanities Initiative and Director of DesignLab at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, Dr. Jon McKenzie is a front-runner in the digital revolution of academia. Leading the charge to transform traditional practices of presentation into cutting-edge performance pieces, McKenzie strives to narrow the gap between academic elitism and social relevance.

Full-time Professor of English at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, he holds a PhD in Performance Studies from New York University and is author of several books, including Perform or Else: From Discipline to Performance, and his current range of research interests include new media, performance theory, globalization, and civil disobedience. Using science fiction metaphors and technological tools to engage with modern mutations of knowledge transmission and acquisition, McKenzie attributes his inspiration to theories of applied Grammatology developed by Gregory Ulmer and Jacques Derrida. As an undergraduate, McKenzie began to explore art informed by theories of relativity and psychoanalysis. The ensuing understanding of theory as a form of applied conceptual art led McKenzie to approach the classroom as a performance space, a site where vastly-differing materials (bodies, ideas, media) could be creatively confronted. In addition, McKenzie’s experiments led him to explore the relation of experimental performance and the highly normative theory of performativity articulated by Jean-François Lyotard.

McKenzie’s research suggests that philosophy’s relation to performance is closely related to philosophy’s relation to democracy, globalization and technology. He warns that attempts to conceptualize those relations must be wary of the constant temptation to colonize the intruding other. At the same time, on the upside, these merging practices provide unprecedented opportunities for alternative performance methods (such as Gay science) to develop. Exploring the conjunction of the human with the technological, McKenzie emphasizes the primacy of performance, stating that “interfaces are thus always joint performances.”

Committed to practical approaches to pedagogy, his DesignLab creates an educational phenomenon equally conceived of as a ‘joint performance’ between students and professors. One of McKenzie’s DesignLab projects involved the use of computers as a theatrical tool, superimposing the virtual and the performative in interpretations of ancient to modern plays. By heralding the collaborative dimension of performance as a paradigm for scholarly interaction in the age of new media, McKenzie locates the transformation of previously individualistic models of artistic creation or knowledge transmission into collaborative modes of creativity.

His research linking performance theory, new media, and cultural development has gotten the attention of scholars and laboratories around the world, leading to his recent participation as guest speaker at events as varied as the Intellectual Lecture Program of Utrecht University and the Mellon School for Theater and Performance Research at Harvard.  His work has also helped create performance arts groups, such as Doorika, and inspired a performance by the HOBO Art Foundation at the Nowy Teatr in Warsaw entitled « Katastronauci » (« Disastronautics »), based on scenarios from his book Perform or Else and from his video-essay « The Revelations of Dr. Kx4l3ndj3r – Prelude, Intro & Axis 3. »

McKenzie’s views on performance are particularly pertinent to this conference, as they encompass the French definition of the word performance while directly addressing the tenuous fate of philosophy as an institution. He attributes the increasing conceptual overlap of disciplines (whose relations with one another were previously ignored or denied) to the role of technology in encouraging a post-disciplinary, post-conceptual society. His participation as a keynote speaker at this conference devoted to the recognition of a new global network of cross-disciplinary research thus resonates in ways that promise to open horizons yet unexplored within the field of Performance Philosophy itself.


  • Contesting Performance: Global Sites of ResearchJon McKenzie, Heike Roms & C.J.W.-L. Lee, Eds. Palgrave Macmillan, 2010. Contesting Performance is a landmark collection of essays by international scholars that addresses the global development of performance research in the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries.
  • Perform or Else: From Discipline to PerformanceRoutledge, 2001. In Perform or Else, Jon McKenzie asserts that there is a relationship between cultural, organisational, and technological performance. In this theoretical tour de force McKenzie demonstrates that all three paradigms operate together to create powerful and contradictory pressures to ‘perform…or else.’
  • « Smart Media at the University of Wisconsin-Madison“. Enculturation: A Journal of Rhetoric, Writing and Culture 15 (2013).
  • “Performance y Globalización.” Estudios Avanzadas de Performance. Ed. Diana Taylor and Marcela Fuentes. Mexico City: Fondo de Cultura Economica, 2011. Pp. 431-458.
  • The Revelations of Dr. Kx4l3ndj3r.” Bilingual English/German. In Ralo Mayer, Obviously a Major Malfunction/KAGO KAGO KAGO BE. Linz: Verlag für Moderne Kunst, 2011.
  • “Abu Ghraib and the Society of the Spectacle of the Scaffold.” In Violence Performed: Local Roots and Global Routes of Conflict. Ed. Patrick Anderson and Jisha Menon. Hampshire: Palgrave Macmillan, 2009.
  • “Global Feeling: (Almost) All You Need is Love.” In Performance Design. Ed. Dorita Hannah and Olav Harsløf . Copenhagen: Museum Tusculanum Press, 2008.
  • StudioLab UMBRELLA.” In The Illogic of Sense: The Gregory L. Ulmer Remix. Ed. Darren Tofts and Lisa Gye. Electronic book published by Alt-X Online Network. 2007.
  • “Performance and Globalization.” In Handbook of Performance Studies. Ed. D. Soyini Madison and Judith Hamera. London: Sage, 2006.
  • “High Performance Schooling.” Parallax 31 (2004): 50-62.
  • “Democracy’s Performance.” TDR: The Drama Review 47.2 (2003): 117-128.
  • Towards a Sociopoetics of Interface Design: etoy, eToys, and TOYWAR.” Strategies: A Journal of Theory, Culture and Politics 14.1 (2001): 121-38.

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A propos de l'auteur : Anna Street

Anna Street est doctorante en cotutelle à l’Université de Paris IV-Sorbonne et à l’Université du Kent à Canterbury. Sa thèse étudie le rapport des développements philosophiques au théâtre européen de l’après-guerre, en examinant comment l’effondrement des idéologies a transformé non seulement les scènes de théâtre, mais aussi l’écriture de la philosophie. Membre de VALE et du Labo LAPS, elle est fondatrice du groupe Tragedy and Comedy: Genres of Dramatic Thought au sein de Performance Philosophy,