Spectators routinely ascribe intention, personality, even an inner life to inanimate, contingently moving objects like puppets. Why do spectators do so? The prevailing semiotic approach is unable to bring light into this fundamental perceptual issue of puppetry. On the other hand, phenomenology and cognitive psychology are shown to be productive when it comes to tackling questions of the perceptual processes involved in contemporary puppetry. I suggest to employ a bird’s eye view on the research areas that involve puppetry though a modified Tinbergian framework, which originates in ethology. The main research question of “How does it work?”  is then situated within this framework. An overview of the scholarly works relating to puppets and the apparent missed connections between them underscores the need for a unifying framework. I delight in precise description of performances with puppets. Like ethologists in the realm of animal studies, I believe there is a lot to be gained  by close observation of performances.  Contemporary perfomances with puppets emphasize the need for tools that go beyond traditional semiotics for analyses of today’s puppetry arts. By applying a perceptual analysis, I am interested in outlining a cognitive poetics of puppetry.

The assumptions of this cognitive poetics are tested against a first-hand experiential/experimental foray into the practice of puppetry. I thrive with collaborative partners and have the good fortune of meeting some amazing people. Practical work as a dramaturge, builder, and teacher allows me to be immersed in the practice of puppetry. By bringing together theory and practice, I hope to contributes to the emerging field of studies in puppetry arts in a threefold way: outlining the need for going beyond semiotics, suggesting a productive framework for the organization of the field, and developing a cognitive poetics approach within this newly defined framework to answer the question “How does it work?”


Banzhaf, Pia. “A Cognitive Approach to the Poetics of Puppetry.” Puppet Notebook: Puppetry and Science. Issue 24, Summer 2014. British UNIMA.

Banzhaf. Pia. “Puppets−A Distinct Ontological Category.” Dolls and Puppets: Contemporaneity and Tradition. Ed. Kamil Kopania. The Aleksander Zelwerowicz National Academy of Dramatic Art in Warsaw (The Department of Puppetry Art in Białystok) (Forthcoming 2018)