President's Doctoral Scholar Award

Jess Allen

Research degree: PhD Drama

Thesis title: Tracktivism: walking and moving in rural landscapes as an activist arts practice

Scope of your research:


Noun: A proposed field of performance that utilises walking or environmental movement practice in rural landscapes to address issues of environmental, social or political concern

If slacktivism, a portmanteau formed from the words slacker and activism, is defined as ‘the act of participating in obviously pointless [internet-based] activities as an expedient alternative to actually expending effort to fix a problem’ (Urban Dictionary 2012), then tracktivism is its antithesis. Taking both the simple noun forms of track as a path ‘beaten by use rather than constructed’ and ‘a mark… left by a person in passing’ (Apple Dictionary 2009), tracktivism is walking performance that makes political concerns tangible through a commitment to substantial/sustained movement across physical space. Encouraging engagement and participation through conversational encounters, it offers a challenge to passivity and a means of energising responses to issues of ecological, social or political significance through embodied, performative intervention in rural landscapes and their (often marginalised) communities.

Brief personal biography

Originally a biologist, I gained a degree and PhD from Aberystwyth University before re-training as a contemporary dancer, latterly at Coventry University where I developed my interest in walking and site-specific performance. I’ve worked as landscape officer for Worcestershire County Council, lecturer on the University of Plymouth Dance Theatre Performance FdA programme in Bristol, arts facilitator for Multi-Story Water an AHRC participatory site-specific performance and community flood-awareness project, also in Bristol, and as a dancer and aerial performer for Blue Eyed Soul Dance Company (UK/US), Movement Collective and Full Tilt Aerial Theatre.

Academic background

  • MA Dance Making and Performance (Dist), Coventry University, 2010
  • FdA Dance Theatre Performance (I), University of Plymouth, 2008
  • PhD Metabolic Footprinting, Aberystwyth University, 2002
  • BSc Hons Biology (I), Aberystwyth University, 1998

Academic chievements / prizes

  • President’s Doctoral Scholarship, University of Manchester, 2012
  • BBSRC CASE PhD Studentship, Aberystwyth University, 1998-2001
  • Elizabeth Thomas Prize for Zoology, Aberystwyth University 1998
  • Evan Morgan Scholarship, Aberystwyth University 1995-1998

Your research interests

  • Walking, environmentalism and political performance
  • Site-specific performance, environmental change and rural infrastructure
  • Developing and defining activisms: direct, relational, slow, craftivism, slacktivism, tracktivism
  • Guerrilla geography, urban/rural hacking and performance
  • Participatory performance
  • Disability and ‘walking’/site-specific performance
  • Documenting and disseminating site-specific, rural performance


Why did you choose to do your research at the University of Manchester?

I was initially drawn to Manchester not only because of its international reputation as an institution but also for the research interests and enthusiasm of my supervisor. He was equally enthusiastic about the University’s excellent postgraduate research infrastructure, and I certainly haven’t been disappointed! Since I’m doing a practice-based PhD in performance and activism in rural landscapes, the School have been incredibly flexible and accommodating to allow me to remain living here on the farm in Herefordshire, which was very important to me and to my practice. I visit Manchester approximately once a month; I love all it has to offer and am very glad to be associated with such a vibrant university.

How do you feel about being selected as one of the President's Doctoral Scholars?

I was truly, truly delighted to be offered a PDS award. Having already done a PhD in biology 10 years ago before I’d re-trained and discovered my true vocation in performance studies, I was very grateful not to have been dismissed as a perpetual student! Receiving the award was like the most fantastic gift, to have this opportunity to pour my energies full time into research I’m truly passionate about, not least because it brings together my very real environmentalist concerns with my performance/life practice, in a setting that allows me to work in and with rural communities.

What are your career aspirations after completing your PhD?

I’ve been very fortunate to have had a rather curious portfolio career up to this point, sometimes juggling up to three very contrasting jobs – landscape planning officer, dance lecturer and performer/aerial dancer! – simultaneously. So it is wonderful to have the opportunity to focus on just one thing for now. In future, I would like to return to lecturing in dance/performance – I very much enjoy teaching, especially in a studio/practice based context – but in a full-time research lectureship role where I will be able to continually develop my research practice. I’m also passionate about developing aerial dance as an artform, but I imagine that will sit alongside my academic work!

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