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On the Reasonable Audience

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This chapter demonstrates how, in the fight for better behaviour, those who can’t or won’t conform to the norm come to be figured as unreasonable. By investigating reasonableness frameworks from sexual harassment law to ‘reasonable accommodations’ for disability , Kirsty Sedgman examines the places where seemingly common-sense assumptions break down. This chapter uses theatre etiquette to explore broader power dynamics behind the act of ‘being together’ in public space.


  • Reasonable person
  • Disability
  • Behaviour policing
  • Cultural difference

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  • DOI: 10.1007/978-3-319-99166-5_5
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  1. 1.

    Speaking personally , I found this exchange extremely difficult to read. The original poster was essentially arguing that the person in question should have been exiled from the performance, despite their obvious disability, because of the fact that this was a persistent cough: one that recurred throughout the production to such an extent that it spoiled the enjoyment of others. In fact, they suggested that their own sense of righteousness had been validated by a practitioner onstage, who during the performance had apparently barked at the theatregoer to be quiet, and then, at the interval, even went so far as to tell the ushers to remove the spectator from the event. This prompted a heated debate online, with people variously challenging and agreeing with the original poster’s assertion that the rights of disabled people to equitable access should reasonably stop at the point where the pleasure of the wider audience is threatened. This example raises a difficult ethical issue for me. I have decided to cite this instance using the ‘heavy disguise’ principle (Bruckman 2002) in acknowledgement of online posters’ right to contextual integrity. This is the recognition of our right as internet users to post on social media and internet chatrooms without fear that our often off-the-cuff statements might be quoted out of their intended context. There is a debate to be had here about whether the researcher of online discourse is ethically obligated to protect somebody who is freely expressing problematic viewpoints in the public domain. However, for the purposes of this book I felt that it would be unhelpfully reductive to draw attention to the controversial views of individuals, choosing instead to stick to my original aim to focus on the ways ideals of reasonableness are structural rather than individual .

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    An interview with the theatre maker Samuel Toye identifies cultural differences in theatregoing expectations, with Italian audiences less strict on ‘things like time-keeping (laughing) – genuinely, in like, established theatres the shows will start half an hour late – it’s amazing […], people use their phones, people talk (Samuel seems amused by my involuntary gasp) – and I’m pretty sure you can have dogs in the audience – it’s mad!’ (Always Time for Theatre 2017: n.p.). See also Johanson and Glow’s (2015) study of a contemporary performance by Indigenous Australian artists as attended by an audience of mostly white and middle-aged’ people, ‘already “converted” to the political, social and cultural importance of Indigenous arts’, as well as Awo Mana Asiedu’s (2016) article ‘The Money Was Real Money’, on audiences’ responses to the Roverman festival of plays at the Ghana National Theatre.


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Correspondence to Kirsty Sedgman .

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Sedgman, K. (2018). On the Reasonable Audience. In: The Reasonable Audience. Palgrave Pivot, Cham.

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