The gaze in classrooms and performance spaces: 8 questions of gaze and power

I’ve been thinking about the concept of the gaze in the classroom and the performance space, having previously encountered the concept with the domain of cinematic studies. The concept of the ‘male gaze’ was developed by Mulvey in 1975  and in broader terms, gaze depends on who is doing the looking and what is being looked at.

In watching artists and teacher working together, I’ve been thinking about glaze in two vertices: direction and depth of field.  Direction of gaze can be classified as either vertical or horizontal.  The Vertical Gaze (VG) was evident when the looking of children was directed either at their teacher or to other source of authority in the room such as a whiteboard or other instructional materials.

The Horizontal Gaze (HG) was evident when children were either looking at each other or to others who were  working together with them.  Shifts from vertical to horizontal gaze could be detected as relationships developed in the session and reflected moments in which the authority in the classroom was  diverted from its usual site, the teacher, towards  other agents in the classroom.

Depth of field can also be classified into three types: short, medium and long. A short depth of field gaze was only possible when a child was unable to look much beyond their immediate environment; their desk or beyond the walls of their classroom for example.

A typical classroom wall, with its myriad of learning instructions and exhortations for example is influential in maintaining a short depth of field  gaze, irrespective of any aspirational advice it may offer in terms of how children might wish to envision their future horizons.    On the other hand, a medium depth of field gaze allows views out of the immediate classroom to perhaps other classrooms, school fields or other school premises such as the kitchen or library.  Finally,  a long depth of field gaze is possible if the view from the classroom can  reach to the wider physical community and in which longer vistas and further horizons are observable.

When thinking about the gaze in performance, and particularly that of ‘integrated’ performances of disabled and nondisabled performers, the concept of gaze leads to some critical questions:

Who are we being asked to look at?

Who are we being asked to listen to?

How are we being asked to look?

Are we being asked to look at everyone through the same conventions?

Who drives the action, who tells the story?

To whom does the story happen?

Who could be almost passive observers watching the action pass them by?


Who in the performance could be replaced by puppets?

(extract from The Puppet Question revisited: movements, models and manipulations)


Author: drnicko

Awarded an MBE for services to arts-based businesses, I am passionate about generating inspiring, socially engaging, creative practice within educational contexts both nationally and internationally.

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