Catherine Cole

Professor and Department Chair

African Studies, Human Rights, Gender Studies

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Ph.D., Northwestern University. Cole is the author of Performing South Africa’s Truth Commission: Stages of Transition (2010) as well as Ghana’s Concert Party Theatre (2001).   In addition to serving as past editor of Theatre Survey, Cole has co-edited the book Africa After Gender? (2007), a special issues of Theatre Survey on African and Afro-Caribbean Performance, and a special issue of TDR: The Drama Review entitled “Routes of Blackface.” Cole’s dance theater piece Five Foot Feat, created in collaboration with Christopher Pilafian, toured North America in 2002-2005. She has published articles in Africa, Boom: A Journal of California, Critical InquiryDissidences: Hispanic Journal of Theory and Criticism, Disability Studies Quarterly,Research in African LiteraturesTheatreTheatre Journal, and TDR, as well as numerous chapters in edited volumes. Cole’s research has received funding from the National Humanities Center, National Endowment for the Humanities, Fund for U.S. Artists, American Association of University Women, ELA Foundation, and University of California Institute for Research in the Arts.

View Curriculum Vitae

Recent work: Cole is currently working on a book on human rights and performance. She is also co-editing with Christopher Balme and Tracy C. Davis, a series called Transnational Theatre Histories to be published with Palgrave MacMillan. She is currently serving as the Vice President for Publications for the American Society for Theatre Research. In Fall 2012, Cole served as the lead curator on the exhibit Fiat Lux Redux: Ansel Adams and Clark Kerr at the Bancroft Library, which also featured a video installation created by Cole and Kwame Braun entitled “Take Five.” This project included a campus-wide curricular engagement through Berkeley’s On the Same Page Program, which culminated in presentations to the UC Regents and Governor Brown in Spring 2013. For videos and press coverage, see:

Praise for Performing South Africa’s Truth Commission: Stages of Transition (2010)

“Cole’s description of both the achievements and failures of the South African TRC is a substantial contribution to the debate as to what is justice. This is a book not only for lawyers and those involved in the dramatic arts and philosophers. The depth of Cole’s research and clarity of the arguments advanced is a very useful contribution as to what ought to be done in our troubled world.” —George Bizos, Senior Counsel, Legal Resources Center, South Africa

“Catherine Cole looks at the functioning of the Truth Commission as a mode of story-telling in itself. Her empathetic and richly detailed recovery of information adds a new dimension: an objective and nuanced story of the passionate TRC story of the stories of pain.” —Albie Sachs, Former Justice of the Constitutional Court of South Africa

“An exceptionally cogent and substantial project by a leading scholar in theater and performance studies.” —Joseph Roach, Yale University

“In this beautifully constructed and densely argued volume, Cole attends to actors, scripts, and audiences, and also to the literary and artistic renderings that carried the TRC hearings to a nation and to the world.” –David William Cohen, Interventions

“Offers a powerful lens into the performance of South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission.” —Diana Taylor, New York University

“Cole retrieves the commission from any narrow legal or quantitative assessment to uncover a promising literariness at its core that should be read and interpreted.” –Ed Charlton, Research in African Literatures

“Performing South Africa’s Truth Commission is a must-read for anyone interested in the work of the Truth Commission.” —Shane Graham, Safundi

“I would submit that no comparable media studies analysis approaches the level of complex layering with which Cole, sensitive to medium specificity but also to the vagaries of performance as such, thinks of television itself as a polyvalent, indeed over-determined, kind of performer, juggling the work of Brechtian narrator, Greek chorus member, vaudevillian magician, and melodramatic star actor.” —Nick Salvato, Contemporary Theatre Review

“Cole takes us through new routes as she lays out a startlingly new mapping of the Truth Commission and its place in South African performative and cultural life. An original and meticulous study of one of the most important examples of transitional justice of our era. Compelling reading both for South Africans and international readers.” —Liz Gunner, University of the Witwatersrand

“Cole’s study significantly enhances our understanding of the TRC….[It] is to be welcomed as a true example of committed scholarship.” —Geoffry Davis, Theatre Research International

“[T]his multifaceted work on the TRC as a performed enactment of transition from apartheid to democracy offers a stimulating interpretation of the process by a scholar with a convincing interest in and profound understanding of the complexities of the South African process of transformation.” —Margriet van der Waal, L’Homme

The five well-crafted chapters present instances of how the public or the nation experienced or witnessed the public proceedings of the commission either directly or mediated through the news media or art. Cole manages–and this is no small feat–in the first two chapters to position the performance perspective. She also recasts the related fields of transitional justice and political trials to reveal new dimensions of the constitutive fields of specific trials in South Africa and transitional justice.” —Lars Burr, Political and Legal Anthropology Review

Cole’s book represents a valuable and unique addition to this body of writing [on the TRC] since her critique refuses to focus on the successes, limitations, and outright failures of the TRC. Instead, Cole approaches the TRC in all its complexity from a performative perspective, evaluating the commission’s work as an ongoing process.”— Marcia Blumberg, Theatre Survey

“Cole’s major contribution to the body of work around the TRC is to move the discourse beyond utilitarian and juridical questions about the TRC’s efficacy and issues of culpability and redress toward a consideration of the ethics within the aesthetics of the commission considered as a performance. Focusing on the complexities of cultural memory, on the simultaneous confirmation and rejection of dominant narratives of the apartheid past and of the TRC’s own mission, and on the subtle capacities of embodied expression, Cole attends to the performance dynamics of the TRC.”—Megan Lewis, Theatre Journal