Something I just thought about with respect to the puzzle of “what theory to use”:
Atkinson etc. talk about things people do in everyday life, and the overall idea seems to be that the people who are doing this are participating in it in an attempt to be or become normal/normative. People who would read this as a “political” activity see “odd/disfigured” bodies as an attempt to critique norms, and at least has feminist potential – they’re trying to set themselves apart from norms, self-consciously.
My issue is, what’s actually happening here? It seems like maybe there’s potential to be “revolutionary” on stage, and maybe such an analysis is more applicable to an act that is obviously a performance, like burlesque. The “feminist” or “post-structuralist” reading might be a useful way to interpret the behavior of people who use invoke those discourses to explain what they’re doing (so they might be doing drag, or performances that are obviously political). However, it’s doubtful that everyone in the subculture is doing so. Moreover, in everyday lives, both “political” and “apolitical” burlesque artists are probably are trying to appeal to a sense of what is “normative” locally (in which case I am better off reading behaviour that only seems “different” the way Atkinson does – as a way of establishing one’s place within the “figuration.)”
I have an empathy for a politicized reading, particularly a feminist one. I want to think that there is something feminist about what these women are doing, and at times they do talk about themselves in feminist terms (the “heckling” incident inspired a conversation about what women “ought” to be doing that was overtly feminist). But it’s difficult to say one way or the other – on the one hand, women may see this as empowering – on the other, being on stage may cause a woman to self-regulate to a greater degree (I note the tendency for women to put themselves on a diet/exercise regime around the time they start performing).
So my research question is really something like, “is a politicized reading necessarily the best way to approach the topic of women in burlesque? Under what circumstances might a politicized/post-structuralist/feminist reading apply?”