We are moving from “the world of science to the world of research” Bruno Latour claimed in 1998 arguing that the traditional gap between researchers and the researched doesn’t fit the needs of knowledge production in the 21st century anymore. In 2006 the sociologist Arjun Appudarai went a step further and – from the perspective of Mumbai – claimed the right to research as crucial for the pursuit of citizenship in the era of globalisation: “By this I mean the right to the tools through which any citizen can systematically increase that stock of knowledge which they consider most vital to their claims as citizens.” He adds: “Research and action in what we would call the arts, humanities, film, media, should not be separate from research on the economy, infrastructure, and planning.” 

In 2002 I founded the Theatre of Research in Hamburg, Germany, to find out, how the performing arts can support what I then called everybody’s research. Ever since we use performance strategies and techniques to bring kids, artists, scientists, citizens and non-citizens together in transdisciplinary research projects. Together we bridged more than only the gap between generations: We learned how to print our own money, how to become friends with somalian pirates, how to engage in destruction for peace or how to foster companionship between species. Meanwhile our theatre became an assembly-space for more and more heterogeneous research groups, which shared their outcomes in the wide spectrum of ways only the stage can offer. In 2011 this practice became the model for the PHD Programs Assemblies & Participation and Performing Citizenship (Theatre of Research in cooperation with Hafencity University and K3-Centre for Choreography). In the 20 artistic research projects conducted in this framework no less than 750 people were actively involved as coresearchers. 

In my lecture I will discuss several examples from this body of work to show different ways in which the performing arts can enable citizens of all kinds to perform their right to research. How are tasks and responsibilities of professional researchers transformed by this process? Finally, I will argue that performing the right to research is an artistic research strategy in itself, that will help us to find out how institutions of knowledge and of culture have to change. 

Link to the recording of the keynote presentation:

Slides included in the presentation: https://sites.uniarts.fi/documents/16257/462727/The+Right+to+Research+.pdf/55a3a3f7-1a0a-46b7-9e7c-8d2ce072f6e2

What if we were performing our right to research right now? 

How could you perform your right to research while listening to a lecture? 

By turning attention from what will be presented here to the mode of presentation. By being aware, that what I’m going to tell you about, might also be happening right now, here, at this very moment, at least in a certain sense. Or is exactly NOT happening and thereby gives way to a deviation of evidence. Or by acknowledging that in a lecture there is always something that exceeds the order of statements, is showing itself like to you, while you watch me talking or actually reading. 

How can I perform my right to research in giving a lecture? 

By writing my lecture down beforehand and thereby making a prognosis on the situation in which I am going to read it to you – this situation right now – that I am imagining in this other – right now – in which I am sitting at my kitchen table, writing this lecture. Now that I see you, I can see the difference between the audience I had in mind and you. And I can learn from it. Also, by receiving the gift of being invited to take the place of the one who knows, the lectern, which by some strange magic turns everything I say to you into something that might be true or some kind of a key for something. 

By becoming aware that research is something I can’t perform on my own, but only within a collective body of research, that is manifold and right now is constituted by us, being together here in this room, but is at the same time connected to many other bodies, or body parts, which happen not to be here with us right now, which are absent, but nevertheless are enabling us to be present here together, by staying connected to them in their absence. 

By orchestrating evidence, bringing your attention here, into this space, then by taking it with me to another space in time, or actually to quite a few other places and moments, following the many links and connection this rhizomatic body of research is made of. 

Following the question what Performing the Right to Research might be

If you are ready, please follow me back to last Friday night, when I attended the 10th anniversary program of the artists’ squat Gängeviertel in Hamburg, and more specifically a discussion about how to evolve the right to the city movement in a way that might create the city of the many – in terms of diversity, collectivity, singularity and equality. Here, we are talking about these last years in which art institutions had to be turned into solidarity zones, busy with trying to give not only voice but also food and shelter and something to do to those who have no part in society, yet. People, who have very little access to civil rights, are sometimes called artists in the process, though they didn’t strive to become artists in the first place. They become our colleagues anyway, because art can happen to be the only shield, the only space available to come up with new, decolonized modes of togetherness – even if only on a very small scale. In certain moments of migration to be an artist is the closest you can get to being a citizen. And their experiences, practices and hybrid forms of knowledge are actually innovative and truly valuable in contemporary Live Art. And we appreciate our new colleagues, we appreciate us being many in this way. But is this some kind of self-defence of the people, or a coincidental win-win-situation, is it complicity or what would be a good term for this? 

Let me start my lecture by suggesting: If people who are struggling, and who in struggling are developing hybrid knowledges and practices, claim art as a labile, as a resource and a shield, they actually perform their right to research. In other words: they execute the right to call their struggle research, to look at it as research, to transform it in terms of research. In this context art becomes a shield, a cover on the one hand side and a toolbox, a laboratory and forum on the other side for performing a right that – other than the right to education – doesn’t exist, yet. We don’t actually have the right to research. On the contrary. Don’t let the hype of research in art and education fool you. Research is still a privilege of the few. 

However, we have the right to have rights, and so we can ask us, if the right to research is a right, that we think we should have, we think everybody should have. And in so far as the answer is yes, art allows us to perform as if, we had it. To explore what if there was a right to research – for everybody to claim? What would that entail? What actually is it, that we are asking for, when we ask for a right to research? 

In 2006 Arjun Appadurai claimed the right to research from the perspective of the global south. He demanded that research “be recognised […] as a more universal and elementary ability, […] a specialised name for a generalised capacity to make disciplined inquiries into those things we need to know, but do not know yet. I maintain that knowledge is both more valuable and more ephemeral due to globalisation, and that it is vital for the exercise of informed citizenship.” (Appadurai 2006, 167.)

This understanding has also been at the center of the research programmes Assemblies & Participation and Performing Citizenship, which were run from 2012–2018 by a combination of institutions in Hamburg: a theatre for children (FUNDUS THEATER/Theatre of Research), the K3 Centre for choreography, the design department of the University of Applied Sciences (HAW) and the department for Metropolitan Culture at Hafencity University of Hamburg.[8]

Together these institutions hosted about twenty research projects, most of them in the form of art-based PhDs, exploring how citizenship is performed today, how it is changing and how performance art practices might be involved in that. What if, we asked, citizenship can be transformed towards including the right to research? What forms and modes would this kind of research take? This was at the same time a political and a methodical question – as well as an artistic one: All the projects within these programmes had experimental parts, in which members of the program shared their research process with people, who were neither from the arts nor from academia, but had first-hand knowledge about the issues in question. The projects took shape in participatory art-based research in heterogeneous groups of (non-)citizen researchers.

As if we had the right to research. 

Another important point of reference within the programmes has been Engin Isin‘s theory of citizenship. It focuses on “acts of citzenship”[9], which help to change the concept of citizenship by performing an act as if they had the right to do it, as if the respective right existed. In other words, acts which perform – with Hannah Arendt – the right to have rights as such, in the sense of tryouts of an alternative civic reality. 

Looking at Austin’s first definition of what he called a performative – a statement that creates what it speaks of – it is obvious that many of Austin’s iconic example are civic acts, like marrying or inheriting, acts in which civic rights are called upon and performed to create a new civic reality.[10] Conversely, citizenship can be defined as the power to change civic reality when civic acts are performed in accordance with laws and institutional protocols. And there is another side to this intrinsic link: Given that the participation of everybody is never accomplished, citizenship and non-citizenship constantly have to be renegotiated. We have rights, and we have the right to have other rights, which we don’t have, yet. But how does this change of citizenship actually happen? Isin answers: It happens through acts which perform not merely one right in accordance with the law, but the right to have rights, acts which act as if they performed a right that just has not been written down yet. 

Following this logic research projects within the program often tried to prove the possibility of intervening in the refiguration of citizenship with art-based practices, simply by trying it out: The Entscheidungsspielraum by Hannah Kowalski for example, was a space designed for collective decision-making, a room equipped with performative tools to empower and inspire heterogeneous collectives to rethink and to enjoy their performance of decision-making. This research project by Hannah Kowalski started from the observation that participatory processes, as for example in urban planning, have incorporated all kinds of creative practices, but risk to become mere spectacles of participation as long as they leave the real decision-making for later. How about some creativity when it comes to decision-making itself? Kowalski developed and tried her Entscheidungsspielraum together with a group of elementary school kids, who were enabled by this project to take part in the decision-making process of urban planning for the first time. As if collective decision- making always included research into decision-making. As if kids had the right to take part in the planning of their future city. As if we had the right, not only to decide, but also decide about our ways of decision-making. 

Sylvie Kretzschmar’s research project about amplification, to give another example, began with a historical analysis of how forms of public manifestation have been informed and changed by specific techniques of amplification and their development. The experimental aim of the project was to develop a new form of amplification, that is informed by the social conflicts around gentrification. Kretzschmar interviewed former tenants of the so-called Essohäuser, a building complex in Hamburg St. Pauli that fell victim to speculation. From these interviews she isolated statements, slogans, and expression of anger and mourning, which were then amplified in public manifestations by the so-called Megaphonchor, an all-female group of activists and artists each equipped with a megaphone, who performed choreographies of protest and mourning in the streets. Activism and media research merged here to create new alliances, new bodies of protest. Many projects within the program included acts of instituting new bodies of work, of struggle and research: There was the School of Girls (Maike Gunsilius), the Institute of Falsification (Thari Jungen), the Institute of Choreologistics (Moritz Frischkorn) and The Youngest Court (Elise von Bernstorff) etc. 

A first evaluation and collection of data at the end of the official running time of the programmes showed, that all these research projects together counted no less than 750 co-researchers, like the kids collaborators in Kowalski’s project or the tenants and activists in Kretzschmar’s Megaphonchor. A further 1500 people took part in the collective research process less intensely, and more than 160 collaborations between various institutions took place to organize and support this kind of research, including not only cultural and academic institutions, but also small companies, associations and schools. After the official end of the programmes in 2018, we now collect and share what we have learned. Under the term Participatory Art-Based research, we just started to put our website up, that is supposed to become an online resource of experiences and methodologies of Participatory Art-based Research.[11] 

One part of this online resource will consist of a list of formats, bodies of research, one might say, which proved helpful for participatory art-based research processes, like: 

  • Try Out Institution
  • Lecture Performance
  • Improbable Assembly 
  • Living Archive 
  • Organized One-on-One-Encounter 
  • Heterotopian Zone

And for the second part of my lecture I would like to take you through one of these formats: 

The heterotopian zone 

Foucault first named real places which are different from their surroundings and somehow produce their own alternative reality “heterotopias” (Foucault 1992). He said that within heterotopias, norms of conduct are shifted, that they are places of crisis and deviation, that they have an entrance and an exit and are all about being gone through, getting stuck, or not getting in in the first place. Though “heterotopia” is initially a spatial concept, heterotopias also have their own kind of time and temporality, they are temporal spaces. Prisons, cemeteries, hospitals, brothels, theatres and ships these are Foucault’s heterotopias. 

But while these classical examples of heterotopias are mostly longstanding historical institutions, since the 1960s heterotopia increasingly became a format of creation in design, architecture, fine arts and live performance. The theatre had already been one of Foucault’s examples, but it seems that when live art left the theatre to conquer public spaces it took the heterotopian potential of theatre with it and started to produce ‘other’ other spaces through performative practices. The production of heterotopias became an intrinsic part of the participatory turn in the arts and could possibly be claimed as one of its very own format.[12] However, heterotopias are not only found in the arts, their career is much more diversified: Heterotopia has also become a crucial concept for urban studies and also, albeit maybe not knowingly, of urban planning. Considering furthermore the rise of tourism as a key sector of the global economy it seems clear that heterotopia has not only become an artistic format, but a product – cruise ships, wellness resorts, conference environments, resident estates, all these are ultimately trying to sell heterotopian experiences.[13]

Foucault’s heterotopias are set before a background of normativity, a unified space of national society that is surrounding the other space, co-creating its otherness through sameness all around. The career of heterotopias in the arts, but also in markets and in cities, might be spurred by the erosion of that national normativity that came along with the idea of the one public, the one society, the one code of conduct. And at best, these heterotopias are set up to negotiate what common space, what commonality could be in the context of the erosion of these old eurocentric norms. Therefore, heterotopias have also become bodies of collective research. Heterotopias – like for example the floating university by Raumlabor, or the Free Port Baakenhöft by geheimagentur, or the Z.A.D, heterotopias like this are often situated in between art and activism, yet are taking into account that the draft in question might ultimately turn out to be a bad idea or merely a passage to something completely different. They are try-outs of alternative worlds, but rather than simulating they are trying to make it real in a spatially and temporally limited zone. In a way, they fake it till they make it. And many times they don’t make it. However, these try-outs are not necessarily about the results, but about the game itself, not ideal spaces, but daring ones. In crisis and in play heterotopias negotiate what might be a common space outside of common space. A common space for a commonality that has not quite been determined yet, a commonality and a collectivity partly or potentially brought about by the heterotopian experience in question. 

To give you an example, I would like to introduce you to a 

Heterotopian body of research initiated by kids at the Theatre of Research 

The Theatre of Research is a real space, and a heterotopian one: A children’s theatre for all generations, a space where artists, kids, scientists, scholars and citizens and non-citizens of all kinds meet as equals, as researchers. The Theatre of Research relies on Live Art practices to set up scenarios and processes for transgenerational research. It exists since 2002 and has developed a few of those recipes which we used and refined in the following PhD Programmes. During the last years several groups of elementary school kids were invited to work at our theatre as curators and producers for a while. They each had curatorial power over a real budget of 3000 Euro, and they regularly discussed with me, how to spend that money. In the course of those discussions it happened again and again that groups of kids’ curators demanded to spend the money on hosting encounters between kids and real animals. First, I questioned those demands by saying: Yes, well, can’t you go to the zoo or to the circus, if you want to meet animals? Isn’t a different part of show business responsible for encounters with real animals? Do we have to do that in our theatre? But the kids answered, that they actually do not feel good about going to the zoo and the circus anymore, because there, animals seemed to be forced to do stuff, and live in cages, in prison basically. Was it not possible to use our money for theatre, in a way, that would enable kids and animals to meet on eye level, as equal but different beings, beings who might become friends? 

We read Donna Haraway and found that in recent years the Animal Studies had developed a discourse around a new understanding of relations between humans and non-humans based on companionship, that is questioning and crossing the binary between humans and non-humans in different ways.[14] Also – looking at the experiences of our own artform – we found, that Live Art from its beginnings has been interested in encounters between humans and non-humans. 

Maybe it was worth it to use that discourse, that artistic knowledge and that wish of our kids curators as starting points to try and to create a heterotopian zone build for interspecies encounters based on equality: What if animals had equal rights, had civic rights, what if we humanz had the right to claim our animalship, be animals together, no species better or worse than the other? 

For The Animals of Manchester (including humanz), Theatre of Research, Manchester International Festival and the Live Art Development Agency set out to create an alternative city of animals in and around Whitworth Gallery: a city in which animals of all kinds, including humanz, lived together in peace. Or at least in search of what peace between species might be. During the last year we brought together a big group of kids from local schools and artists from Live Art, who had worked in and around interspecies questions before. We told them this: 

“For ages human beings thought they were different from all other animals – they thought they were superior, they thought they were the masters, they thought only human beings had free will, they thought only human beings had language. Children always had their doubts about that, and today finally, adults start to see, that the kids were right… Imagine what Manchester, what any city, would look like if all animals in that city were equal, including humanz?” [15]

Also, we asked the humanz of that initial group of artists, kids and researchers to team up with other species present in Manchester. They all chose one, tried to get in touch: with dogs, squirrels, cows, hedgehogs and beetles. Finally, across one long weekend in July of this year, artists, children and other animals together created an alternative city in and around Whitworth Gallery and Park, in which humanz and other animals tried to live in companionship.

In this alternative city you found for example a hedgehog hospital hosted by local activists, a home for 80 rescued orphan hedgehogs that had to be fed by hand. You found a picnic area for squirrels and pigeons, and the live art library, that turned into a life art library for this time. Here for the first time non-human animals were explicitly honoured as performing artists. Angela Bartram opened a Human School that turned the classical logic of the dog school around: Instead of a school in which dogs are taught obedience, we had a human school in which dogs were the teachers. We had a monument with poems made by kids who tried to give voice to extinct species working together with the artist Marus Coates. 

A heterotopian zone is made for interaction, creating it means to make all kinds of prognoses and forecasts about what is going to take place there. To make these forecasts forces the team to be really clear about all aspects of their heterotopian intervention into the real. The ‘what if’ has to be articulated and answered to a certain extent before the public enters. The forecasts then become material, become practice, become programming and therefore it becomes really clear in the following whether they have been correct or not, simply by people relating to it or not or, most possibly, relating to it in a way that is not quite covered by the forecast. 8000 people visited the alternative city of the animals of Manchester. Hundreds of them decided to claim their animalship and become citizens of the alternative city, “true animals of Manchester, not better or worth than any other”. Many of them – and especially the kids, who had been a part of the project for a longer time – had suggestions how to improve interspecies relationships and make very first steps towards more animal equality in Manchester. These were presented at the townhall and were included into the report of the Animals of Manchester, which was put together by the townhall scribe, the artist David Caines. 

Setting up a heterotopian space means to push for the rights that are supposed to govern the zone, and to make them prevail over conflicting rules which govern conduct otherwise. Of course, the new rights will contradict all kinds of other rules which are in place in terms of legal, social and material conditions. Much can be learned in this process: In trying to pause a given rule, we find out where it is rooted, how it is related to other rules, protocols and routines for example of ownership, of safety and of separation. 

It seemed comparatively easy, for example, to meet on eyelevel with another animal, that lives freely in the habitat at hand, like the squirrels and beetles, who live in the park. In our Beetles Film Theatre for example only those insects were filmed, which decided on their own terms to show up on the set, a set that was painted yellow to attract the insect performers. However, the UN report on biodiversity published in spring 2019 showed that the animals living autonomously in their habitats are long outnumbered by those animals we own. Of all the mammals living on this planet 36 percent are humans, four percent are wild animals and all the rest, 60 percent, are livestock.[16] 

To face up to these shocking numbers we decided to try and invite two cows to become mayors of our alternative city. Everybody involved in the process of inviting the cows to the city of animal equality, including children, artists and organizers, got a clear understanding of the system of segregation that is in place to separate humanz from those other animalz which we own and eat. For many of the kids who were involved in the project, and not only for them, it was shocking to learn about intensive farming and the living conditions of farm animals. Together we suggested to set up an organisation for a new kind of ‘cowgirls and cowboys’. These cowgirls and cowboys would learn about cows and how they live today and would visit working farms to check on the well-being of farm animals. During the last open townhall session this report and all the suggestions were handed over to the Lord Mayor of Manchester hoping to make some impact with our transgeneration and transspecies research.

What stayed, after the alternative animal city was deinstalled, was not only the report with the claims of the kids, not only families going vegan and stopping to clean up their gardens, but also the format of the zone itself, which proved to be one of the most diverse bodies of research, I ever have been a part of: a zone for humanz of all ages to perform their right to research – towards new forms of citizenship, which are inclusive beyond the human. 


8 A similar approach can be found in the Charter for Advanced Practices published by the European Forum for Advanced Practices: “Building on ongoing discussions of artistic research, on their consequent expansion as ‘practice based research’ and recognizing what work is out there, we propose to go a step further in order to include practices that act as unexpected convergences of many forms of knowledge. These practices cannot be recognized under the name of artist, collective, school, genre or mode of exposure. Rather they are bodies of work, that consciously or unconsciously, are drawn together in movement, in their unpredictable engagement with urgencies and exigent issues. How we can chart such relations and what permission we might gain from the relations they form, is one of the drives of The EFAP Charter for Advanced Practices.” advancedpractices.net

9 Isin, Engin and Nielsen, Greg. Acts of citizenship. London 2019. Isin, Engin. “Doing Rights with Things: The Art of Becoming Citizen,” in Paula Hildebrandt, Kerstin Evert, Sibylle Peters et al. (eds.) Performing Citizenship. Bodies, Agencies, Limitations, London 2019, pp. 45–56.

10 See also Sibylle Peters. “Performing Citizenship,” in David Elliott, Marissa Silverman and Wayne Bowman (eds.) The Handbook of Artistic Citizenship, Oxford 2016. 

11 See pab-research.org.

12 The memorials by Thomas Hirschhorn are outstanding examples from the world of fine arts: The memorial – formerly dominated by traditional sculpture – is reinterpreted in Hirschhorn’s work as a heterotopian space in which practices of gathering, learning, relating and remembering are hosted, triggered and performed. Another example is Banksy’s Dismaland, a dark version of Disneyland set against the background of migration and European crisis. Dismaland also reminds us that the fairground and the circus have always been heterotopian experiences and at the same time shows us how Banksy turns the amusement park into an artistic format.

13 See the Youtube-Clip Heterotopia: Designing Our Mindscapes by Jason Silva, www.youtube.com/watch?v=cKxQMyBl22o, last visited May 3, 2019. 

14 Donna Haraway. The Companion Species Manifesto: Dogs, People and Significant Otherness, Paradigm: Chicago 2003, and Staying With The Trouble: Making Kin in the Chthulucene. Experimental Futures, Duke University Press 2016.

15 For a full list of the artists, who have contributed to this project see: www.thisisliveart.co.uk/projects/mif-2019-animals-of-manchester-including-humanz.



Appadurai, Arjun. 2006. “The Right to Research,” in Globalisation, Societies and Education, vol. 4, no. 2, pp. 167–177.

Foucault, Michel. 1992. “Andere Räume,” in Karlheinz Barck et al. (eds.) Aisthesis: Wahrnehmung heute oder Perspektiven einer andere Ästhetik, Leipzig: Reclam.

Peters, Sibylle. 2016. “Performing Citizenship,” in David Elliott, Marissa Silverman and Wayne Bowman (eds.) The Handbook of Artistic Citizenship, Oxford. 


Sibylle Peters

Professor, doctor Sibylle Peters, researcher, performance artist, studied literature, cultural studies and philosophy, and worked at the universities in Hamburg, Munich, Berlin (FU), Bale, Wales, Gießen and Essen. As a freelancing performance artist, she realizes projects with major European partners (Wiener Festwochen, Berliner Festspiele, Tate Modern, Manchester Festival e.g.) focusing on participation and collective research. Peters is cofounder and director of FUNDUS THEATER/Theatre of Research, where children, artists and scientists meet as researchers. She is cofounder and speaker of the PhD Program Performing Citizenship and currently visiting Professor for transdisciplinary design at the Heteropia Graduate Program at Folkwang University of the Arts. www.performingcitizenship.de