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Drag performance, identity, and cultural perception

Oughton, Karen


Karen Oughton


D. Keith Peacock

Richard Boon


This is the first holistic study of English cross-dressed performers. It will situate drag performers within their cultural context in order to establish how their concerns, motivations, employment, communities, friendships, self-perception and artistic ambitions impact on their performances. Furthermore, it utilises performance and ethnographic analysis of a number of artistes to demonstrate how modern drag politicises communities and forms an accessible critique of social roles. Furthermore, it aims to reunite Queer Theory with the realities of its effects on society.

The first chapter establishes the study’s position within the overarching framework of Queer Theory. A troupe of drag performers are examined in light of Judith Butler’s theories of performativity to elucidate how the social aspects of gender can be developed. Then, Kate Bornstein’s work is used to illustrate how individuals can use these identities as a conscious method of self-development.

Following this, the second chapter explores the social role drag performers have, sometimes inadvertently, chosen. Developing the theories of the interrelationship between belief, LGBTQ sexuality and otherness purported by Kate Bornstein, it asserts the educational and social role that can be taken by drag performers.

The third chapter focuses on the messages that these LGTBQ shaman (a theory developed from Laurence Senelick’s work) convey to their community via performance. Case studies illustrate how the performers tailor their acts to politicise their often apathetic audiences. This work is extrapolated in the fourth chapter, which focuses on the community-wide Pride Parade performances. The Rabelaisian carnivalesque is used to argue that the carnivals encourage the audience to review their gender development, revitalising the culture.

Finally, the fifth chapter demonstrates how these differing theoretical strands enable televised drag performance to challenge censure by questioning ‘otherness’ itself. This is achieved with reference to horror theory, camp and the performances of Danny La Rue, amongst others, and the cultural impact of the programme Little Britain (2003). The thesis demonstrates that drag is, in fact, a dialogue that can engage and politicise mainstream culture.


Oughton, K. (2009). Drag performance, identity, and cultural perception. (Thesis). University of Hull. Retrieved from

Thesis Type Thesis
Publication Date Apr 1, 2009
Deposit Date Aug 15, 2011
Publicly Available Date Feb 22, 2023
Keywords Drama
Public URL
Additional Information Department of Drama and Music, The University of Hull


Thesis (1.8 Mb)

Copyright Statement
© 2009 Oughton, Karen. All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced without the written permission of the copyright holder.

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