Histories of sociality
Audiences play a vital role in the constitution of texts and performances. “We say half a word to the wise; when it gets inside him or her, it will become whole”, says a Yoruba proverb, alluding to the active role of the listener in constituting the meaning of an utterance. Audiences make the meaning of the text “whole” by what they bring to it. In many performance genres, this co-constitutive role is made palpable by the audience's visible and audible participation. Some performances cannot proceed without the audience's repeated endorsement. Some oral genres appoint a “yes-sayer” to keep the endorsements flowing so that the narrator is not brought to a halt. Audiences may sing the chorus, prompt the narrator, or ask questions. Audiences may also take elements of the text away and flesh them out by application to a new context – as in popular theatre in western Nigeria (Barber 2000) and Tanzania (Lange 2002), where the meaning of the play, in the audiences' view, is only realised when the play's “lesson” has been extracted and re-applied to their own lives.
In the sphere of written texts, a lot of critical attention has been devoted to the way in which the writer writes “to” an imagined readership, and in doing so offers them a place from which to interpret it.
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