Jiituomas (jiituomas) wrote,

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The Re-enactment Papers

In July I mentioned that I'd found a couple of useful papers on historical re-enactment. And promised (at least offline) to say a few words about them. So here they are.

The first one is Acting the part: 'living history' as a serious leisure pursuit by Stephen J. Hunt, published in Leisure Studies 23(4), 2004. And the second a master's thesis in sociology from 2005, Social Identities within the Society for Creative Anachronism by Zane Gardner Lee. The first one deals with American Civil War re-enactment in the U.K., the latter - obviously - with the SCA. Lee's paper is available online, for Hunt you need a way to access the online archives for Leisure Studies.

Hunt takes a good look at the social aspects of people re-enacting parts of history from another country. There's a nice view on Goffmann's "front stage" and "back stage", and how they correspond to the fact that most of the people he describes are interested in recreating an "experience of being there" or a "subjective authenticity", not necessarily perfect historical accuracy. He has also cleverly noted how official statements stress goals like "historical significance and educational element of the society", while members state things like the "fine bunch of blokes" they share the events with as a primary reason for participating. To quote one interviewee:

"Its a safe environment to discharge weapons and learn history. It has an educational element for the public too. But that's not really what it's all about. It's about enjoying yourself. A bit of escapism really. And best of all I get to dress up."

Hunt backs this all up with a good load of field data, which makes the results quite credible. One strange thing, though, is that he claims that the construction of an alternate identity is essential to enjoying the re-enactment. But his data, especially from a larp studies perspective, clearly contradicts this.

Lee, in turn, has done a survey at a major U.S. SCA event, getting 219 responses. Emphasis is on the members' sense of belonging within the organization and its importance to them. The thesis starts with a nice literature survey and a good (if a bit Amerocentric) description of SCA practices, making it a very good paper for reference purposes. For me the author's description on how an SCA persona varies in depth from one participant to the next was solid gold.

Lee lists as few hypotheses and then proves some of them accurate, some false. (I found the honesty very refreshing, and it also reminded me of what happened with my work on cultural factors affecting larps, the one that lead to Information, Immersion, Identity.) For example, active participants, against the hypothesis, mostly do have very strong family ties as well. On the other hand, people with less prestigious mundane lives tend to concentrate much harder on participating in SCA activities and have a stronger sense of "belonging" there - which isn't a big surprise. (Especially given how holistic SCA activities can be in the U.S.) Lee's data is good enough that it would be easy to see whether it applies elsewhere as well.

What impressed me in both pieces was that they're very serious works on serious leisure, and quite critical on what they do and how well they reach their goals. I can easily recommend both papers as starting points for research into re-enactment, regardless of whether it's as a sibling phenomenon to larps or as the primary target.
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