Jake Nussbaum is an interdisciplinary, artist, musician and Ph.D candidate in Anthropology at the University of Pennsylvania, where he studies the relationship between experimental performance practices and sites of political struggle. His dissertation, “Beyond Time: Radical Experiments with Politics and Performance in Philadelphia,” examines how experimental black performance in Philadelphia informs abolitionist activism in the city. Working closely with dancers and musicians, Jake asks how embodied practices such as group improvisation, “tuning in,” and polyvocality provide tools for imagining alternatives to liberal settler colonialism. Jake then follows these embodied practices as they are taken up in abolitionist struggles to challenge dominant understandings of personhood, property, and the trajectory of political change. Jake is a student affiliate of the Center for Experimental Ethnography and a member of the bands The Early and Seven Count.
Wolf Humanities Center Associate Scholar
2022—2023 Forum on Heritage
Ph.D. Candidate, Anthropology
Beyond Time: Radical Experiments with Politics and Performance in Philadelphia
How do activist communities in Philadelphia practice alternatives to private property, policing, and the dispossession of racialized “others” despite the immense odds stacked against them? In my dissertation, I explore how organizers in the city draw on embodied techniques—such as group improvisation, polyvocality, and heightened responsivity—which emerge from the city’s rich heritage of black experimental performance, in order to challenge structures of state violence and reimagine political life. I trace these connections at three sites of struggle—museums, policing, and housing—seeking to understand how historical performances and techniques gleaned from performance settings animate movements for reparations, abolition, and systemic change. By taking this multi-temporal approach, I contend that justice is an intergenerational embodied struggle that exists beyond dominant narratives of linear progress and liberal reform.