Julia Peetz

PhD in Performance and Politics

Academic and research departments

Department of Politics.


Areas of specialism

performance and politics; interdisciplinary research practice; the US presidency; performativity and theatricality ; interviewing elites

My qualifications

The Higher Education Academy
rMA Cultural Analysis
University of Amsterdam
BA Political Science and English Philology
University of Göttingen
University of Surrey

Previous roles

Associate Lecturer
Goldsmiths, University of London
Visiting Lecturer
Royal Central School of Speech and Drama
2017 - 2019
Editor of Platform: Journal of Theatre and Performing Arts
Royal Holloway, University of London
2017 - 2019
PhD mentor
Researcher Development Programme, University of Surrey
2017 - 2018
Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences Student Engagement Forum Chair (2017-'18)
University of Surrey
2016 - 2018
Postgraduate Research Representative for the GSA
University of Surrey


Research interests

Indicators of esteem

  • University of Surrey FASS Festival of Research 2017 Poster Competition 1st Place Winner 

  • Glynne Wickham Scholarship

  • NeMLA Travel Grant

  • TaPRA 2019 Conference ECR Bursary

  • IAS University of Warwick Summer School Fee Waiver

  • TaPRA 2017 Conference Postgraduate Bursary

  • TaPRA Postgraduate Symposium Travel Bursary

  • PSA Media and Politics Group Conference Travel Subsidy 

Conference papers

'The Currency of Distrust: Performance, Theatricality, and Representative Democracy.' Guildford School of Acting Postgraduate Research Symposium, University of Surrey, 3 December 2018. 

'Double-Crossing: Populist Performance, Embodiment and Illusory Transgression.' Theatre and Performance Research Association (TaPRA) Annual Conference. Popular Performance Working Group. Aberystwyth University, 5-7 September 2018. 

'The State Performing Against Itself: U.S. Presidential Populism and Oppositional Practice.' Theatricality, Performance, and the State Conference. Queen Mary, University of London, 7-8 June 2018. 

'The Haunted Politician: Embodiment and Political Performance.' 68th Annual Political Studies Association (PSA) International Conference, Cardiff, 26-28 March 2018. 

'Legitimacy as a Zero-Sum Game: Political Distrust and Presidential Representation in the United States.' Political Studies Association (PSA) Media and Politics Group Conference, University of Hull, 16-17 November 2017. Awarded the James Thomas Memorial Prize for best paper (postgraduate). 

'Every Election is a Change Election: Representation and the Performance of Legitimacy in Times of Populism.' Populism: Left, Right and Center; Graduate Student Conference, LSE, 3 November 2017.

'Reframing Legitimacy: Performative Representation in Times of Populism.' Theatre and Performance Research Association (TaPRA) Annual Conference. Performance, Identity and Community Working Group. University of Salford, 30 August-1 September 2017.

'Politicians as Outsiders: Connecting with Voters in an Age of Distrust.' Doctoral College Conference, University of Surrey, 25-26 July 2017.

'Performing Emotion in an Age of Paranoia.' American Comparative Literature Association (ACLA) 2017 Conference. Seminar: The Paranoid Style. Utrecht University, 6-9 July 2017.

'Overloading the System? Populist Performance, Democracy and Distrust.' Performance Studies international (PSi#23). Kampnagel, Hamburg, 8-11 June 2017.

'The Performative Edge of Non-Politicians: Anti-Establishment Rhetoric, Representative Claim-Making and Shifting Legitimacy.' Critical Theory in the Humanities: Resonances of the Work of Judith Butler. Vrije Universiteit (VU) Amsterdam, 5-7 April 2017.

'Obama's Tears and Farage's Pint: Material Focal Points for Anti-Establishment Rhetoric.' Northeast Modern Language Association (NeMLA) 48th Annual Convention. Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore, 23-26 March 2017.

'The Currency of Distrust: How Does Politics Work Through Performance?' Poster Presentation. Discoveries on Your Doorstep: Connecting Societies and Cultures. Public Engagement Event. University of Surrey, 2 March 2017.

'Beyond the Antitheatrical Prejudice: Politicians' Performances and Political Space.' TaPRA Postgraduate Symposium. University of Leeds, 3 February 2017. 

'The Currency of Distrust: Performances of Populism in the 21st Century.' Poster Presentation. FASS Festival of Research Poster Competition. University of Surrey, 31 January 2017. Winner: 1st Place. 

'Just Theatre? Rethinking the Significance of Politicians' Performances in Representative Democracy.' Politicians and Other Performers Symposium. Birkbeck, University of London, 20 January 2017. 

'Obama’s Tears: Political Rhetoric and the Performance of Outsider-ness.' Institute of Advanced Study Summer School 2016: Performing Politics/Politicising Performance: Summer School of Political Dissent. University of Warwick, 11-15 July 2016.



Peetz, Julia (2019) 'Theatricality as an Interdisciplinary Problem.' Performance Research 24 (4): 63-67.

This essay argues that interdisciplinary scholarship on politics and performance underestimates the complexity of social performances, particularly in the realm of politics. By reducing performance to performativity, current scholarship fails to appreciate how the specifically theatrical quality of social and political life affects people’s experience of politics. In moving beyond the designation of politicians’ showmanship as straightforwardly ‘theatrical’, this essay proposes that a more conceptual reading of theatricality illuminates both how political representation works through performance and the urgent and widespread problem of political distrust. Because theatrical situations that occur outside of theatre settings still depend on the highly contingent, tenuous connection of suspended disbelief between a performance and its audience’s reception, it is important to account for the specifically theatrical qualities of social and political performances. It is therefore vital to introduce theatricality as an analytical concept into fields beyond theatre and performance studies.

Peetz, Julia (2019) 'Beyond the Antitheatrical Prejudice: Political Oratory and the Performance of Legitimacy.' Contemporary Theatre Review 29 (1): 5-22.

It is frequently debated whether politicians should be good public performers or whether voters should focus less on presentation and more on the substance of policy proposals. However, missing from these debates, in both theatre studies and political science, is a detailed theorization of the role played by politicians’ public performances in representative democracy. This article responds by excavating representative democracy’s performative core. Taking a historico-theoretical approach that draws on Paul Friedland’s study of theatrical and political representation during the French Revolution as well as performance theory and political theory, I argue for the performativity of democratic legitimacy and its dependence on the interplay of politicians’ public performances and their audiences’ suspension of disbelief. Through its exploration of how performance contributes to the functioning, not merely the embellishment, of representative politics the article draws interdisciplinary connections between performance scholarship and political science. Different figurations of performed legitimacy are explored through a focus on shifting patterns of the performance of the US presidency. The article traces the journey away from an early model based on Thomas Jefferson’s first inaugural address, which cast the president as the chief explicator of the Constitution, to twentieth- and twenty-first-century styles of presidential performance, which tend to emphasize the President’s independence from other political institutions. This analysis suggests the possibility of a link between performed legitimacy and a broadly populist discourse, thereby offering a provocation on how historically rooted practices might still influence current oratorical and performative styles in the United States.

Peetz, Julia (2018) 'Semi-Structured Elite Interviews with U.S. Presidential Speechwriters in Interdisciplinary Research on Politics and Performance.' SAGE Research Methods Cases.

This case study details my experience of conducting semi-structured elite interviews with presidential speechwriters in the United States for an interdisciplinary research project on politics and performance. The case study explores the rationale behind the choice to conduct interviews and the ways in which the interviews intersected with the study’s theoretical work. Particular attention is paid to the process of recruiting elite interviewees and preparing for elite interviews. I explore the advantages and disadvantages of targeted emailing and chain referral as recruitment techniques and discuss how to get around pre-set narratives elite interviewees might be trying to impart to the interviewer to get more spontaneous, less contrived responses to interview questions. The case also addresses the vexed question of sample size in qualitative interviews. I explore the concept of “theoretical saturation” and discuss how one might judge a corpus of qualitative interviews to be saturated.

Peetz, Julia, and Alexander Roycroft (2018) 'Raising Her Voice: Maiden Speeches and Representative Power.' In: Amending Speech: Women's Voices in Parliament, 1918-2018, edited by Maggie Inchley and John Vice, 282–87. London: House of Lords Hansard.
Peetz, Julia (2016) 'Obama's Tears: Politics, Performance, and the Crisis of Belief.' Platform: Journal of Theatre and Performing Arts 10(2): 10-31.

This article explores a striking performance of crisis by U.S. President Barack Obama in a speech on gun control delivered at the White House in January 2016. I begin by contextualising the speech within Obama’s presidency and the polarized political landscape of the United States. By performing his own ineffectiveness, I argue, the President shrewdly deployed anti-establishment rhetoric to paint himself as an incorruptible outsider to America’s corrupt political system. Seen in this light, the tears he shed during the speech performatively underscored a range of rhetorical gestures, with which Obama sought to align himself with the American public and against a conspiratorial political culture dominated by lobbyists. The second section engages with Obama’s tears on a more conceptual level, asking whether they can be said to authenticate Obama’s professed emotional investment. I consider the reception of the tears in the American news media alongside questions surrounding the nature of acting, authenticity, staging, and reality in my argument that the tears are unreliable indicators of emotion. As such, they can be said to perform a crisis of authenticity in twenty-first century political discourse, which demands highly polished performances of politicians and seeks to discredit any performance that betrays its staged nature.