The challenge of disciplinary instrumentalism within cross-disciplinary applied theatre research

Purcell-Gates, L (2016) The challenge of disciplinary instrumentalism within cross-disciplinary applied theatre research. In: Theatre and Performance Research Association (TaPRA) Conference, 5-7 September 2016, University of Bristol, Bristol, UK.

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In Theatre for Change: Education, Social Action and Therapy (2012), editors Robert J. Landy and David T. Montgomery stage a constructed dialogue between applied theatre researcher-practitioners on several key issues for the field, including the persistent challenge of aesthetics versus instrumentalism. During the (imagined) discussion on the meaning of ‘change’, Philip Taylor raises the issue of evidence-based transformation and how that can present a challenge to theatrical research in ‘this neo-positivist era where we have to constantly justify our existence’ (p. 233). I propose that this challenge, a familiar one within applied theatre, represents an instance of disciplinary instrumentalism, in which applied theatre is at risk of becoming instrumental to qualitative, scientific research within the context of increasing interest in cross-disciplinary research within both universities and funding bodies. I therefore propose a two-fold provocation for applied theatre within the context of cross-disciplinary research: Challenge: What are the risks and implications of such disciplinary instrumentalism? Potential: In what ways might applied theatre claim the centrality of alternative approaches to ‘change’, and how might this reframe the function of qualitative methodologies within such research? Taken further, what can the sciences can learn from applied theatre? For this provocation I draw on two of my research projects. The first, a Wellcome Trust-funded project on biomedical history of disability in collaboration with a university pathologist, foregrounded theatrical engagement with the story of a medical and historical ‘monster’ including research with disability arts practitioners and disabled workshop participants, producing change in biomedical knowledge. For the second, an upcoming project on puppetry as intervention in trauma with teenage asylum seekers and refugees that draws on qualitative methods, I am currently grappling with how intervention is framed as my academic collaborator from the field of psychology works with me to articulate intervention from a rigorously theatrical standpoint.

Item Type: Conference or Workshop Item (Paper)

Presented as part of the Applied and Social Theatre Working Group.

Divisions: Bath School of Music and Performing Arts
Date Deposited: 22 Jun 2016 12:46
Last Modified: 15 Aug 2021 09:42
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