Ulf Otto: Theaters digital epistemology: on FOMO, the privilege of presence and research driven by data

Access to performance has been paramount for theater scholars at least since the 1960s: having been there provided the epistemological basis as well as the symbolic capital necessary to make academic careers, while recordings have often been understatedly used and jealously guarded. But with the presence now actually being absent (without any deconstructivist doing), when due to hygiene measures even senior scholars fail to get tickets, the discipline is back to its (audiovisual) sources, which all of a sudden circulate in abundance, from all over the place and all kinds of times. It’s this appearance of theater as (big) data, its accumulation and accessibility, that might prove to be the game changer post-covid (rather than any new aesthetic formats). What is known about theatre, how that knowledge is organised and who is involved in organising this knowledge, is changing rapidly within a digital culture that is dominated by new forms of collectivity, referentiality and cognition. The pandemic has only accelerated an epistemological paradigm change that has already been underway and will inevitably have a decisive impact on the discipline, if only due to the amount of funding currently being invested into Digital Humanities and Cultural Analytics. – Starting with a brief survey of how theaters have been compensating the recent loss of presence, the paper draws attention to the privilege of presence within the digital economy we are heading towards, advocates a reconceptualization of theater beyond performance and approximates what is at stake for theater within digital knowledge infrastructures.

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