Date of Degree


Document Type


Degree Name





Peter Eckersall

Committee Members

Jean Graham-Jones

David Savran

Domna Stanton

Subject Categories

Arts and Humanities | Theatre and Performance Studies


Human Rights, Political Activism and Efficacy, Inter-Asia Cultural Studies, Social Justice, Dramaturgy, Asian Neoliberalism


This dissertation examines artistic and activist performances that address issues of rights abuses in Hong Kong, Malaysia, and Singapore. I demonstrate how the centralized ruling parties encourage the neoliberalization of their economies while maintaining autocratic rule, thus intensifying structural inequalities while also clamping down on dissent. This condition then exacerbates the lack of labor, sexuality, and democratic rights. Concurrently, the states’ aspirations to be part of the global capitalist market have paradoxically provided conditional spaces of political and artistic expression. I contend that existing critiques of human rights from sociological and legalistic perspectives are inadequate for contemplating this state of affairs. My intervention thus lays in examining how the lens of performance studies reveals the fraught significance of rights claims in the region.

My case studies show how authoritarian neoliberalism has created peculiar scenarios where queer subjects are legally criminalized yet desired as economic generators, resulting in the proliferation of queer theatre and businesses; where low-waged migrant workers are exploited even while the state and the market fund theatre initiatives addressing the issue; and where aspirational practices of democracy are seen in the structures of artistic rather than electoral processes. By deciphering the dramaturgical strategies of works of theatre, installation art, photography as well as participatory street protests and demonstrations, I argue how by means of their embodiment, artistic and activist practices not only viscerally confront the urgency of addressing injustice, they also manifest the particularities of the contexts in which they occur.

In conclusion, I posit that a performative framework of human rights moves the judgment of its efficacy past that of legislative possibilities to how it enables nuanced agential shifts in the participants’ political subjectivities. As such, I see how the artists and activists in the quest for rights claims are constantly trying to strike a balance between resisting and being co-opted by authoritarian states in neoliberal Asia.

This work is embargoed and will be available for download on Sunday, June 02, 2019

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