Performing the law: On performance-based legal research methodologies

Dr Sean Mulcahy1

1Australian Research Centre for Sex, Health and Society, La Trobe University

Whilst there has been a marked growth in research and practice exploring the intersections of theatre and law over the past decade, there is little critical attention paid to methodologies in the interdisciplinary field of ‘law and performance’. As a fledgling interdiscipline, law and performance is slowly developing its own methodologies drawing from the disciplines of the scholar-practitioners working on the topic. This paper shall consider different methodological approaches in the field, and conclude with an account of my own methodology of exploring law, as Leiboff and Nield put it, ‘through the lens of theatrical theory.’

Through adopting a theatrical/performance lens, the researcher as scholar-practitioner is able to draw in a diverse array of methods for examining the legal performance – methods that are more attentive to law’s material and aesthetic dimensions. The scholar-practitioner becomes what Denzin and Lincoln term a ‘bricoleur’, using multiple methods in an interdisciplinary fashion according to the context of the research situation.

In this speculative paper, I sketch out some of the different approaches that may form the bricolage of work in the field of law and performance, including two examples of my own performance-led research: Exploring, an installation to explore audiences’ interactions with the computer screens of digital testimony; and some nascent field research mapping the soundscapes of courts (current and former) to determine the impact of ambient sounds on courtroom audiences. Using alternative research methodologies enables me as a scholar-practitioner to generate new knowledge about law’s sensorial dimensions and the dialogue between legal actors, spaces and their audiences.


Dr Sean Mulcahy is an emerging scholar in the field of law and performance. His doctoral thesis, Performing the Law: A Study of Performance in Courts of Law (2020), examined particular elements of legal performance – set, script, audience, sight and sound – in court settings. He is a collaborator with the international Art/Law Network, has written for Law and Humanities and the Canadian Journal of Law and Society, and has forthcoming piece on research methodologies in law and performance. He is guest editor of the upcoming volume of Law, Text, Culture: ‘Performing Theatrical Jurisprudence’.


Dec 09 2021