The Politics of Performance: Dramaturgy outside COP21

Written by Sarah Huang

As we join COP21, our research is guided by three themes, which will be discussed throughout these blog posts. These three themes include: Translation, Scale, and Performance.


Translation refers to how different actors define problems, solutions and their role in solving problems; defining roles and convincing others to accept and take on these roles; and speaking for other actors.
Scale refers to different processes of scale, such as local, regional, and global that shape how ideas emerge.
Performance refers to how roles are performed and how these lend to how knowledge and identities are legitimized and delegitimized, and how shared meanings are constructed and deconstructed.

As a member of the civil society team, Kim, Liz, Scott, Suraya and I went to the COP21 meeting site Le Bourget. Upon arrival, to the site we walked along the tall metal fence that was separating the site from the roadside. There were armed guards on the inside of the fence on the top of grassy berms. There were also guards located at the gate entrances. As we walked towards the conference center, we were greeted by large columns with each country’s flags displayed alphabetically.

A biodiversity stand with volunteers were handing out apples from Carrefour to all people coming into the event. These stands promoted a “Taste of Biodiversity” and “Agroecology as a climate solution”. Agroecology is based on a whole-system approach based in traditional knowledge, alternative agriculture, and local food experiences. This promotion of agroecology and an alternative form of agriculture and biodiversity was a strong point, but what was not clear was whether these apples being handed out were a product of agroecology.

While we were standing around, buses were dropping off delegates to attend the formal meetings, and we even caught a glimpse of Al Gore as he walked into the center. Other forms of performance were conducted outside the conference center that called a lot of attention to people coming into the conference center.

The ClimActs #climateguardians from Australia were standing in the front holding up signs for “Climate Justice”, “Free our Power”, and “Coal Kills”. These six women of varying ages were dressed in white gowns and scarves with green wreaths sprinkled with white flowers on their heads. Each of the women were wearing five foot wings that were made of various colored pieces of tulle. These women had been standing outside all morning and were also visiting different sites and movements around Paris. The group was surprised that there weren’t other forms of protest happening during this first day of COP21. At this point, we said goodbye to Fernando and Laura as they headed inside to serve as delegates at the formal ‘blue zone’ meetings.

Another performance was the Earth Guardians group, which is a group of indigenous youth and  rappers, who were standing in the center outside the doors of the conference. It wasn’t clear whether this was a strategic or explicit performance, but the gathering of various press swarming the youth group and these three rappers standing alongside each other silently, became quite the performance.

I thought these events were very interesting forms of performance ​specifically the ways in which they displayed particular forms of identity. For me, the performance of angels and the symbology of angels as peace, pure, and guardians was really interesting. According to their website, the act of a guardian as a role in a “peaceful social disruption” as a symbol for climate justice and justice for clean energy resources. This costume and act of silent performance frames an understanding of climate justice is an act of peaceful protest. It makes me wonder: who are the guardians of the earth’s natural resources?

The use of angelic symbology as a form of guardian might suggest that we, as a collective, should be guardians of the earth’s natural resources. The representation of these angels outside the first day of COP21 sets the stage for a fight for climate justice that is both peaceful, but also needing to claim responsibility as guardians. This form of performance urging for a transition from dirty fossil fuels speaks to the impact that fossil fuels has on world, but does not explicitly mention the impact on the world’s most vulnerable populations.


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