Are we entering a new era of ‘amateur performance’? The associations of the amateur with leisure activity, and as part of an economically determined division of time into valuable ‘work’ and unproductive ‘play’ seems to be breaking down. This understanding of the amateur universalized, Western, male working patterns with specific rhythms of the working day, week, year and life cycle arose from the mid-twentieth century. Across the globe, new patterns of labour and pleasure are emerging that call for new definitions of the amateur; an ‘amateur turn’ in academic studies is redefining the ways in which cultural practices are understood (Holdsworth, Milling and Nicholson 2017).
The rise of new social media alongside new forms of working and ‘post-working’ are changing the nature of amateur performance. Social media provides opportunities for amateurs to reach global audiences, unmediated by professional gatekeepers. There is an apparent authenticity and intimacy of online amateur performance that can be community-building, but we are also interested in whether this can also be problematic in its politics and effects on both performers and audiences. Amateur bakers, gardeners, knitters and others have become television and social media celebrities, producing new kinds of performative contexts, combining amateurism with highly professional commercialized media systems. But there has also been a flourishing of popular participatory amateurism, in particular in singing, music, dance and other performative arts, and a resurgence in craft-making. Sometimes such activity pushes at another supposed boundary, between the amateur and the political. The ‘craftism’ movement (Greer 2014) indicates a wider sphere in which guerrilla performance, slow art and other forms of amateur participation are also political activism.
These changes challenge us to rethink the geographical and historical contexts of the amateur. Forms of amateur performance in different parts of the world have a long history, challenging the notion of the amateur as secondary or second-rate. In some societies at some periods, ‘professional’ and ‘commercial’ have been derogatory terms, contrasted with the purity of amateur performance. In others, the boundaries between amateur, community and professional performance are less rigid, and performers move between modes at different times of their lives and everyday routines. We invite contributions that explore this history of amateur performance, that think through the nature and limits of the idea of the amateur in different cultural contexts and that help us to develop a new vocabulary to understand the complexity and nuances of amateur performance.