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Chapter 27. Personal, Powerful, Political: Performing Research With a Passion

Kimberly Dark

Kimberly Dark is a writer, sociologist, and raconteur who uses poetry, humor, and storytelling—and sociology—to incite discussions about the daily contours of privilege and oppression. She is the author of five award-winning solo-performance scripts, and her poetry and prose appear in a number of publications. For more than ten years, Kimberly has been teaching and touring these solo shows at universities, theaters, and festivals. She is an Adjunct Professor in Cal State San Marcos’ graduate program in Sociological Practice, and her academic work focuses on understanding audience and performative methods. The Evening Echo in Cork, Ireland, says “the balance between objectivity and intimate analysis certainly gives Dark an edge and has made her a force to be reckoned with on every level.” The Salt Lake Tribune says “Dark doesn’t shy away from provocative, incendiary statements, but don’t expect a rant. Her shows, leavened with humor, are more likely to explore how small everyday moments can inform the arc of our lives.” The High Plains Reader in Fargo, North Dakota, says “Dark’s skill as a storyteller gets to your heart by exposing hers.”  

“We are creating the world, even as it creates us.” I communicate this idea continuously in my work. It’s simple and memorable, and sets the stage for a performance of sociology. My contributions in writing and performance are concerned with everyday life, how we create and nurture the systems that either support or thwart our best efforts at fairness and creativity. My creative work is about nurturing conscious culture-makers. I use humor and stories and poetry to remind the audience that we already are culture makers, constrained as we may feel by social circumstances. Our lives are our own: we have agency. I’ve found that this is not widely known. It’s helpful to see culture-creation modeled, to see it in one’s family or community, to see it normalized on stage.

In my case, I work to reveal the intersections of individual agency and social privilege. My interest as a sociological practitioner is to encourage considered everyday speech and action in the service of creating better systems; to make it easier for oppression to seem merely like a bad idea, unsatisfying and unrewarding. I advocate for systems of thinking and creating culture that will make it easier for individuals to behave with kindness and respect toward one another, rather than limiting kindness and respect to certain recipients, or enshrining those activities as noble ideals toward which the common person can only aspire. In my writing and performances, power is not an evil to be controlled; it is generated internally and externally and can be manipulated to greater or lesser good (see Moore Lappe, 2010). Understanding how our individual lives are constrained by our culture and the meaning our culture gives the circumstances of our birth (gender, race, class) and attributes, will lead to greater agency in creating systems that benefit all who participate in them.   

This chapter about a career in autoethnographic research and public presentations of sociological thought follows in two parts: part one is a personal story about how this type of career emerged from training and life experience, and part two describes methodology and dissemination. The performance clips available on the website provide two experiences of the work: one performance poem “Public Woman” (from my audio CD Location Is Everything), and excerpts from a theatre show, Complicated Courtesies.

Further Resources:

Kimberly Dark
Performative Social Science
International Congress of Qualitative Inquiry
Arts in Society

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