Theater as a Site for Technology Demonstration and Knowledge Production: Theatrical Robots in Japan and Taiwan

Volume 09, Issue 2

As the boundary between science/technology and society has gradually become permeable, and as science and technology have become subject to societal interrogation, more and more interdisciplinary collaboration has emerged as a way to not only encourage innovation but also engage the public. Under the guise of interdisciplinarity, however, heterogeneous modes of collaboration exist, in which the roles of the public are differently conceptualized. Using Andrew Barry and Georgina Born's 2013 framework for analyzing interdisciplinarity, including that of science and art, this article examines two instances of the interdisciplinary collaboration between robotics and theater in Japan and Taiwan. In particular, it analyzes how the perceived agency of robot actors is constructed onstage in these two cases. On the technological level, anthropomorphic, humanoid robots are used to construct the agency of robot actors in both cases. On the theatrical level, a comparison shows divergences in the role that theater plays and the potential role of the public. In contrast to the Taiwan case, for the Japan case a more active role of the public is conceptualized involving their use of social knowledge in judging the constructed agency of robot actors and their contribution to knowledge of human-robot interaction. Theater is used in both cases to demonstrate technology for the public. However, a comparison of the two cases demonstrates that, beyond that purpose, in which the public assumes a passive role, the interdisciplinary collaboration between two seemingly distant disciplines—robotics and theater, in this case—has the potential to foster knowledge production in which the public can assume an active role.

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