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GRiT (Graduate Research in Theatre) Seminar #2: Emma Meehan (Centre for Dance Research, Coventry University), 'Gestures of Pain: Dance, Chronic Pain and Agency'

Venue: Online

In this paper, I discuss a series of interviews with dance artists based in the UK who live with chronic pain and make choreographic work about it, through the lens of personal and collective agency. Hellström (2001, 89) suggests that lack of agency is a significant experience for people living with chronic pain, with ‘feelings of inferiority and of being disregarded and mistrusted’ along with a ‘weakening of his or her autonomy to affect the situation.’ Living with pain can impact on capacity to work, travel and socialise (Jay 2015; Gonzalez-Polledo 2018), altering a sense of self-identity and personal autonomy. In defining agency, Graham (2009, 378-279) contrasts the ‘authoritarian structures of Western biomedicine’ with ‘agency as the process of instantiating change in the status quo.’ He goes on to describe how discursive networks and objects/materials can inform agency, creating change not only on an individual basis but also in terms of how wider systems operate. In my current research, I examine the work of six dance artists with persistent pain from different regions in the UK, to question if and how agency takes shape in their work through their material and discursive practices. In reflecting on agency, I also ask what ‘recovery’ might mean for dance artist with chronic pain, as an ongoing and fluctuating experience that can disrupt and inspire their work – and how this might support new understandings for living in the context of the COVID19 pandemic.

Emma Meehan is Assistant Professor in Dance at Coventry University. She is the principal investigator for the AHRC funded Somatic Practice and Chronic Pain Network; and was co-investigator for Sensing the City (AHRC). Recent publications include ‘Moving with Pain’ co-authored with Bernie Carter in Frontiers in Psychology (2021) and ‘Moving and Mapping’ co-authored with Natalie Garrett Brown in Urban Sensographies (ed. Whybrow, Routledge, 2020). Emma has edited several collections including Performing Process (2018) with Hetty Blades and Dance Matters in Ireland (2018) with Aoife McGrath. Research interests include dance and somatic practices; dance and chronic pain; cultural embodiment; site dance practice; and practice research.

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