Hugh Sillitoe

Research title

A comparative ethnography of contemporary absurdist performance practices amongst theatre practitioners and socio-political activitists.

Research summary

Absurdity. Disharmony. Discrepancy between what is perceived to be and what is perceived should be. This is the crux of my practice as an artist, activist, and researcher, three roles that I conceive as far from mutually exclusive.

The theoretical framework upon which my PhD research hangs involves a blending of absurdism, anarchism, and pragmatism. Simplified here for the sake of brevity, this is a recognition of the fundamental meaninglessness of existence leading to a realisation of the equality of all beings within such shared essential purposelessness, which constitutes a rejection of hierarchy and an anarchist imperative to resist all authority, which in turn leads to a pragmatic confrontation with limitation as attempts to transcend power and create utopia are continually stifled.

Carrying this theory into research practice, through comparative ethnographic fieldwork amongst artists and activists engaging in absurdist performance within different cultural and socio-political contexts, alongside critical autoethnographic reflection upon my own art and activism, I seek to suggest answers to three central questions:

Why do artists and activists engage in absurdist performance?

What differentiates artist and activist absurdist performance practice?

How are both modes of absurdist performance impacted by socio-political context?

* Please note, the photograph attached to this profile is not of the researcher themselves, but of a spoon who bears a slight resemblance to them. This image is used here to display solidarity with recent spoon uprisings around the world.

Research Interests

Absurdist performance practices; social movements; art & social change; the avant-garde; dada; anarchism; punk; subcultural & post-subcultural studies; humour & play; ethnography & auto-ethnography; autonomous & prefigurative communities; ecology & sustainability.


  • 2015 - 2018 – AHRC DTP Scholarship – full tuition and stipend.
  • 2013 - 2014 – University of Chicago Full Tuition Scholarship
  • 2013 - 2014 – University of Chicago International House Residential Fellowship
  • 2012 – King’s College, University of Cambridge, King’s Scholar Award
  • 2011 – King’s College, University of Cambridge, King’s Scholar Award

Additional information


‘Don’t Frack our Hearts’: An activist ethnography of humour, play, & absurdity’ (MA thesis, University of Chicago)
‘No Gods, No Manarchists?: A comparative study of anarchist ideals & gender representation within DIY folk-punk scenes in London and Berlin.’ (BA thesis, University of Cambridge)