In Against the Romance of Community, author Miranda Joseph explores the notion of community and what it means to create a community space. Joseph primarily argues that while communities seek to create an all-inclusive, safe space for a group of people who identify similarly with one another, they also inherently exclude others. In essence, Joseph says that to develop a sense of “us,” one must also create a counterweight of “them.”
By examining the concept of community, Joseph also looks at how people identify and categorize themselves into social and cultural groups. Her main takeaway implies that people ultimately navigate through the multi-dimensional facets of their identity such that they call forward what is most relevant and makes them feel the most safe. She identifies that a community could be formed on the basis of identity, unity, or communion.
Joseph incorporates the idea of ethical producing of queer/POC works by first examining the mission statement of a theater group who tries to establish who their market, or “community” is and how to best serve them. The group struggles to be inclusive without pandering to every possible emotion of every audience member, though ultimately settle on a problematic exclusion of a key group of the community they tried to represent.
Joseph goes on to look at how different cultural institutions define their community, and how some communities are not nearly as different from others structurally despite how different their people may be. She argues that, at their cores, all communities are a byproduct of capitalism because of an unequal distribution of wealth and power.
Reading this piece in the context of the class made the idea of ethically producing both more and less daunting. While it seemed almost comforting to know that all you can do in producing a work is pick your audience and strive to support them in the best way you can, it also felt disappointing to realize that you will never satisfy everyone. Joseph seems to discourage people from trying to achieve an unattainable utopia so I would have liked some more suggestions of what to do instead.
At the very least, I feel like the introduction of the notion of “us” and “them” regarding communities created a thoughtful framework for me to examine future productions. For example, if I am working on a show that is representing an “us” when I am part of a “them,” I need to constantly remember to create space for the community regardless of my other-ness.
An example I could relate this to is what I imagine the experience of being a hearing performer in Deaf West’s Spring Awakening might have been like. While hearing actor Alex Boniello technically shared the role of Moritz with Deaf actor Daniel Durant, Boniello had to consciously give Durant the room to perform without drawing too much attention to himself. Although the community of this show was meant to be deaf and hearing audiences together, Boniello’s upstaging of Durant would have compromised that mission by interrupting the experiences of deaf viewers.