School of GeoSciences

School of GeoSciences


Timothy Edward Smith

Street performing spectaculars and ordinary life

Street performances offer occasions to watch spectacular showings of dexterity, nerve, musical virtuosity and comedy. As forms of cultural entertainment/events they are unique in their occasioning in public space where they can be watched by anyone and require no entry fee or admission ticket.

The rationale for this doctoral research is an investigation into social interactional practices which are taken for granted/seen-but-unnoticed but nevertheless constitutive of street performing spectacles and the social organisation of public space more generally. This research project is interested in how street performances take place, how they are noticed by passers-by and how they are watched by crowds/audiences.

Field site:

The main research location for this project is the Edinburgh Fringe Festival 2012 & 2013. During August each year the Royal Mile and central Edinburgh area are transformed, through an explosion of art, theatre, music and entertainment, into bustling and vibrant places.


By taking an "ethnomethodological approach" I want to consider the methodical ways that society is able to accomplish a whole range of social actions relatively smoothly in the course of their everyday lives.

For this project I am interested in the social organisation of public space in relation to street performances: for instance, how do passers-by recognise a street performance as just such a thing? How do they become and participate as audience members? How do audience members manage their place in the audience? How does clapping, laughing, joking, booing, sighing, happen?

For one aspect I want to draw upon Jon Lee and Rod Watson's "minimalist analysis". This is a fascinating piece of work that draws on ethnomethodology, conversation analysis and members' categories in thinking about how we interact in public space with one another as more than "just strangers". For example we are street-performers, pedestrians, passers-by, parking attendants, audience members, disinterested passers-by, big issue vendors, beggars, police officers, etc. That is, we are able to routinely and without too much trouble organise ourselves around basic categorial ascriptions and the various rights and obligations that accompany them.


Because I am interested in how social interaction is accomplished (rather than accounts of how social interaction is accomplished) I am mainly using video recordings to capture picture and sound of ordinary life "in flight". Subsequent analysis involves trying to provide descriptions of the detailed "seen-but-unnoticed" work that street-performers, audience members, passers-by, etc. use in the course of the everyday lives.


It is not the aim of this project to provide any theoretical account of how street performances happen. Rather, it is the intention to make ordinary life practices a topic of enquiry in their own right; to describe the methodical ways that street performances are organised and produced. In that regard this project does not seek to "reveal" new facts through some penetrating social scientific gaze about what constitutes a street performance and its organisation in public space, as if they had been buried, waiting to be unearthed by a researcher with a large enough shovel. Rather through pursuing an ethnomethodological approach it is hoped that the project shall provide "...a new slant on phenomena which are all too familiar to ordinary society-members and professional sociologists alike." (Lee & Watson, 1993, Appendix II, p23)