Hegel, Christine . "Improvisation." Theorizing the Contemporary, Cultural Anthropology website, July 27, 2017.



Created date

July 3, 2018

Critical Commentary

Improvisation is often associated with comedy, but it’s not always funny. Broadly speaking, improvisation can be characterized as performative, collaborative, and spontaneously responsive. Disentangled from the performing arts, improvisation need not entail performance at all; one can improvise a dinner of scrambled eggs in response to a lack of other ingredients. Improvisation is not even necessarily collaborative (that could be a solo dinner of scrambled eggs), in which case the spontaneous response is to a set of material conditions (nothing but eggs) and not as part of communication. But collaboration, when it is there, fundamentally transforms improvisation into something dialogical. It is the dialogic-collaboration aspect of improvisation that suggests interesting possibilities for social inquiry. How might anthropologists collaboratively improvise, and how might this enrich social analysis?