Dr Jacki Willson

Dr Jacki Willson


My research is situated between the disciplines of Fashion/Costume and Performance. I began my research journey in Fine Art practice and created Arts Council Funded activist performance work in Nottingham after graduating in 2001. My projects -In Exile (2003) and Content in Suburbia (2008) - dealt with questions of motherhood and home by documenting activist intervention pieces that I performed in my local area. My MA in Cinema Studies moved my research into Fashion/Costume Studies. This became a useful and exciting way of thinking through questions of the 'gaze' and objectification. From 2012 to 2016 I taught Cultural Studies to Fashion, Textiles and Jewellery students at Central Saint Martins. Ideas relating to fashion have helped to re-vitalize different ways of approaching feminism and the female body. My two monographs, The Happy Stripper: Pleasures and Politics of New Burlesque (2008) and Being Gorgeous: Feminism, Sexuality and the Pleasures of the Visual (2015) came out of my PhD research. This was triggered by a performance by Ursula Martinez called 'Show Off' whereby Martinez performed a striptease. The PhD thesis explored this performance by looking at the intersections between the historical trajectories of women's performance art, the burlesque artiste and feminist activism.

Research interests

My research interests relate to the fashioned or costumed body, performance and gender/sexual politics. My research focuses on women performers of new cabaret  (especially burlesque), looking at the way costume (by both the performers and the audiences) is used to fashion resistance. I also look at other forms of cultural activism within popular culture, both on the street and on social media platforms such as Instagram and Facebook, specifically in relation to women (including trans) and drag. My research is grounded within feminist - theoretical, historical and activist - perspectives. 

My most recent article was published in Routledge's Porn Studies journal, 'Porn, Pantomime and Protest: the politics of bawdiness as feminine style', that explored the 2014 'face-sitting' protests by sex workers that took place outside of Westminster. In this protest costume and bawdy humour were used in a particularly intriguing way. I am developing this idea of bawdiness in relation to the costumed body in the third monograph that I am currently in the process of writing for the Palgrave Studies in Fashion and the Body series. In this book 'Fashioning the Reproductive Body', I am arguing that bawdy costume performs a 'strategic essentialism' (Spivak 1988) that generates new ways of thinking about the spectacle and lived experience of 'womanhood'.

 I am also co-editing 'Revisiting the Gaze: the fashioned body and the politics of looking' (Bloomsbury) and a second edited volume entitled, 'Dangerous Bodies: fashioned bodies on the boundaries' (Palgrave). As part of the Bodies and Performance Research Group, I am also co-organising a symposium, 'The Lived Female Body in Performance', that will take place in April, 2019.

<h4>Research projects</h4> <p>Any research projects I'm currently working on will be listed below. Our list of all <a href="https://ahc.leeds.ac.uk/dir/research-projects">research projects</a> allows you to view and search the full list of projects in the faculty.</p>


  • PhD Fine Art theory/history - Loughborough University
  • BA Fine Art (Painting) - 1st Class - Loughborough University
  • BA Cinema Studies - Nottingham Trent
  • PGCE - University of York

Student education

I teach at Undergraduate and Postgraduate level and have contributed to various modules including Researching Theatre and Performance and Exploring Performance. My lectures relate to Feminism, Gender Performativity and Performance. I supervise both third year independent resarch projects and MA individual projects. 

Research groups and institutes

  • Bodies & Performance

Current postgraduate researchers

<h4>Postgraduate research opportunities</h4> <p>We welcome enquiries from motivated and qualified applicants from all around the world who are interested in PhD study. Our <a href="https://phd.leeds.ac.uk">research opportunities</a> allow you to search for projects and scholarships.</p>