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Radical Hope

What this study is about:

The Project works with partners in Taiwan, India, Greece, England, and Toronto investigating how the drama classroom/workshop and the concepts of 'hope' and 'care' can cultivate relationships, dispositions, and values that orient young people towards, and support them in, engaged citizenship.

There is a relationship between creative drama activities and young people’s broader engagement with civic life.  This study will examine how young people’s creative and artistic practices and their care for each other in drama projects impact their participation in the political, economic, and cultural lives of their local and global communities. The research will take place in classrooms where drama is used.  By spending time and talking with a wide variety of drama students and teachers in urban schools, this research aims to create an artistic and intercultural ‘youth knowledge base’ regarding experiences of drama pedagogy and understandings of civic engagement, to learn from and with youth about their hopes, and for what and whom they care. This research will therefore explore the experiences of students in communities in Toronto, and in other international contexts, namely, London (England), Athens (Greece), Lucknow (India), and Tainan (Taiwan).


What is involved:

The research involves 3 kinds of activities: (1) Classroom activities, which involve spending 2-3 days/week in your drama classroom to observe and participate in the regular workings of the classrooms, some of which may be videotaped, (2) Individual Interviews and Focus Groups with students and teachers, which would run 45-60 minutes and would centre on issues of civic engagement, social/peer relations, learning, and school culture, and (3) Video-making, the creation of digital videos (e.g. DVDs that students can create based on your writing and/or drama work).

Introduction and Context:
“What do we owe strangers by virtue of our shared humanity?” writes Kwame Anthony Appiah (2006, xxi). In the digital era, this question challenges us to consider what it means to be an engaged citizen in the current globalized context. Traditional concepts about youth civic engagement often focus on political awareness and voter turnout; however, more recent scholarship considers a broader conceptualization of the ‘youth citizen’ as one who is not only informed and active, but as one who cares (Dalton 2006). An OECD report defines ‘civic’ as that which is outside the marketplace and the realm of the private and concludes by recognizing the importance of civic engagement being nurtured in schools (Lauglo&Oia2007). The OECD report incites us to ask what role drama practices and pedagogies may play in inventing new avenues of civic engagement; what makes the classroom a forum of civic engagement in the present as well as an experience that may cultivate civic engagement later in life?

Traditional classroom-based approaches may effectively increase youth’s knowledge of electoral politics and the responsibility accompanying citizenship, while community volunteering may raise awareness of social issues, but can in-school activities actually help them to see themselves as global civic actors?

Collaborating across schools in Canada, India, Taiwan, England, and Greece, the proposed study will examine how the drama classroom/workshop can cultivate practices, relationships, dispositions, and values that orient young people towards, and support them in, engaged citizenship. The proposed study will further pursue unexpected findings from recently completed SSHRC-funded, international, ethnographic research that examined student (dis)engagement (artistic, social, and academic) in disadvantaged schools. Prior study found a strong relationship between the ‘caring’ activities that some students engaged in outside the classroom and in-school engagement. It also revealed a strong relationship between ‘care,’ ‘hope,’ and commitment to schooling.

Objectives:
Taking these important relationships from our previous school engagement study to the broader arena of civic engagement, and to better understand the connection between hope, care, and engagement, our proposed study will address the following research objectives:

1.      Examine for whom and about what students most care; and how hope and care as practiced are related to democratic engagement for youth.

Our prior study discovered, through quantitative surveys nested within our multi-sited qualitative ethnographic study across drama classrooms in Canada, the United States, Taiwan, and India, that students’ ‘caring’ activities outside school had a very strong correlation with their in-school engagement. In fact, family and caring activities that occurred outside of school was the single most consistently correlated variable within the entire study. This was an important finding because most studies of student/school engagement do not actively consider out-of-school activities. Explicitly linking the idea of care to school social relations will allow us to examine how, when, and under what conditions young people invest in their learning and their civic commitments. What is occurring during those caring interactions and why was it significant to school engagement? In turn, how might caring, democratic engagement in the drama classroom support civic engagement beyond school? There are implications here for how pedagogy should be reflected upon and practiced considering the role that it plays in broader processes of democratic citizenship. How is identity shaped by these altruistic activities? How is care understood and lived across different social locations marked by gender, class, caste, race, and ability?

2.      Determine whether and how hope can be intentionally mobilized within schools, and particularly within drama classrooms, in a context of increasing social and economic instability.

In our prior study, what we came to read as a kind of profound hope operating in the most dire circumstances and conditions in both our Asian and our North American schools presents us with a deep curiosity about the place of hope for youth in a time of overlapping global crises (financial, social, political, and ecological). In our previous experience with students across sites, hope was not a state, but a practice of the most resilient youth we met, a way of working that slowly came to circulate, often in unanticipated ways, as the struggle to create something together took hold. Through drama, a walk in “another person’s words” became, in striking instances, the source of radical hope. If relationality and connectivity determine how we inhabit hope together, how might such deep-rooted hope be more intentionally mobilized, more deliberately cultivated? How do teachers and students practice hope together? And what practices of hope acknowledge, but are not reduced by, the precarity and insecurity of community life inside and outside schools? How does this hope live uncomfortably alongside disappointment and disengagement (see Gallagher 2007 and Gallagher et al 2010), other recognizable student responses to classroom pedagogy that we observed in equal measure? In what ways, then, do students come to practice hope, in the micro-ecologies of classrooms, when broader neoliberal experiences of individualism and technologies of divisiveness threaten its very sustainability?

3.      Clarify how and why the temporary culture of collective theatre-making works and how specific models of collaborative work in the drama classroom/workshop cultivate emotional sensibilities and demonstrate democratic participation across differences with the potential for catalyzing broader civic engagement.

Our prior research highlighted the importance of the collaborative pedagogy one typically observes in drama classrooms; the kind and quality of peer-to-peer and teacher-to-student interaction that occurs in drama spaces where the pursuit of a common goal through working together, rather than merely being together, is prized. There are rites and rituals, dialogic exchange and opportunities for deliberation that allow students to face difference (locally and globally) from a position of solidarity, to face conflict from a desire to understand others through collectively created work. In what specific ways are these models of working in drama, across different contexts, a form of civic engagement in their own right? How might they prepare students for more deliberative and active participation in the public sphere? How might students transfer the protean democratic ways of working that use social difference as a political resource- features of the temporary culture of the drama classroom- to the wider world?

4.      Clarify how translations of ideas across cultural and linguistic borders, differing pedagogies, cultural aesthetics, genres of digital media, and knowledge mobilization practices build capacities for intercultural dialogue and civic engagement for youth in a global context.

Taking head-on the now familiar portrayals of 'lost youth' in the post-industrial global city, the proposed research will provide the creative impetus for young people in Canada to evaluate their own connectedness to 'home' and build local understanding of community within new multicultural realities through an invitation to communicate through theatre, to distant others, about their local experiences of civic engagement and disengagement. Their ideas and creative outputs will virtually travel to 'meet' other young people; they will, in turn, also learn from the stories of other young people through their role as 'audience'. Living with people who differ and communicating with those you don’t understand are skills to be honed by public schools and remain, Richard Sennett (2012) argues, the most urgent challenges facing civil society today. Similarly, making social relations well is likely the most pressing pedagogical concern of our time (see Gallagher & Wessels 2011). Can creating theatre and dialogue with strangers- those in our local classrooms as well as those across cultural, racial, geographic and linguistic divides to whom we may learn to have some ethical responsibility- build youth capacities for civic engagement?

Relevant Literature: Hope, Care, and Civic Engagement:
Researchers in the disciplines of education, sociology, philosophy, drama, and health have conducted many qualitative and quantitative studies of the two governing concepts of this study: hope and care. In 2001, Yarcheski, Mahon, and Yarcheski investigated social support and well-being among middle-school adolescents from a health perspective, and developed the Hopefulness Scale for Adolescents, a 24-item visual analogue scale. This allowed them to demonstrate quantitatively how social support leads to hopefulness, which in turn leads to well-being. My previous study revealed that social support or care given by adolescents to others was positively correlated with their sense of engagement and achievement in school. The reciprocity of social support/care is clearly a significant area for us to pursue further in the proposed study.

Qualitative researchers have also focused on hope. Rose was careful not to address hope as a personal or individual trait but connected it to larger social forces. Particularly relevant to the proposed study, she concluded that a comprehensive study of hope must clarify “its potential influence on dissipating despair in education so that it is possible to address the broader social conditions that create and perpetuate despair in the first place” (2007, p. 37). Henry Giroux (2006), also concerned with the broader historical and social conditions of youth, in his series of essays, Politics after Hope, held Barack Obama (who was himself using the idea of hope to galvanize a dispirited nation) accountable for the absence of a meaningful focus on issues concerning youth and education and how these are related to the failure of democracy. He described the “deadening silence from liberals and progressives about crucial issues such as the relationship between democracy and the fate of youth, the persistence of racism, and the central importance of education in providing a formative culture for responsibility, engaged citizenship, and public values” (2006, p. x).

To ignite this much needed discussion, scholars are being urged to think of modes of hope and hoping differently (Hage, 2002). Philosopher Richard Rorty coined the terms, “social hopes” and “hopes for global, cosmopolitan, democratic, egalitarian, classless, casteless society” (1999, p. xii). Relevant to the proposed study, he explicitly linked hope with democracy and suggested that students following a Deweyan education would “acquire an image of themselves as heirs to a tradition of increasing liberty and rising hope” (p.121). Philosopher AlphonsoLingis offered a particularly relevant insight about students who struggle socially and academically in schools because of the disadvantages and barriers they face, claiming that hope “…doesn’t come out of what went before but in spite of what went before” (2002, p. 24).

For Chantal Mouffe (2002), the idea of hope is linked to the existence of political alternatives. Our new imaginaries of hope through theatre, inviting students to articulate to distant others what they care most about, are likely to spark such new modes of hoping, as dreams come into symbolic and material being and are questioned and challenged by others.

The proposed research will focus on the contexts of hope and care to determine what conditions foster them and to build on the work of Scottish education scholars, Hedge and Mackenzie (2012), who both acknowledged and critiquedNoddings’ claim that the purpose of education is to create caring people, and explored how emotional sensibilities are cultivated in classrooms to enable care. The proposed research will address similar issues through drama, a pedagogy well-suited to explorations of emotional sensibilities.American Verbatim theatre artist Anna Deavere Smith wrote, “The theory of the play is that an actor has the ability to walk in another person’s ‘words,’ and therefore in their hearts” (1992, p.7). Theatre educator Baz Kershaw argued that drama can produce a growing number of “carriers of hope” (1998, p.67) and that drama has the potential to create “currently unimaginable forms of association and action” – “the transcendent sense of the radical” (p. 69). Although hope is associated with future prospects, Sara Ahmed (2010) carefully differentiated it from wishful thinking and states that it guides action in the present. Brian Massumi (2002) was also interested in how hope works in the present, and suggested that hope springs from how we connect with, and care for, others. Isabelle Stengers (2002) argued that we become more hopeful when we find solidarity and connection to others.Through the proposed study, notions of ‘care’ as caring about, caring for, caregiving, and receiving care (Hedge &MacKenzie, 2012) cultivated through creative and collective models of working through drama, will be better understood and theorized in the context of schools, communities, and global relations.

Significantly, while earlier research about school engagement has linked it with active civic participation (Rumberger 2001; Fredericks et al. 2004), more recent research about youth has begun to scrutinize what citizenship means outside the logic of electoral politics and legal rights. Julie MacLeod (2012) in Australia and Joanne Dillabough and Jackie Kennelly (2010) in Canada considered what ‘youth citizen’ means, and contributed to a broadening view of citizenship as a practice and an identity. Russell Dalton in the US also analysed changing patterns of youth civic engagement and categorized practices that will inform the proposed research: participation” (voting and beyond); “autonomy” (sufficient knowledge for participation); “social order” (the degree to which youth accept the authority of the state) and “solidarity” (concern and care for others) (2006, pp. 2–3). Through sustained ethnographic engagement across sites, the proposed research will help clarify the “habits of the everyday through which subjects become citizens” (Isin&Neilsen 2007, p. 17), examining hope, care, and citizenship as everyday practices.

In his latest book, Together: The Rituals, Pleasures and Politics of Cooperation, social theorist Richard Sennett illustrated the power of cooperation to countervail the social dangers of what he calls, “The Uncooperative Self” (2012, p. 179). He argued that certain models of working – an architecture of cooperation – may establish political togetherness in the wider public sphere. He argued that the nub of cooperation, “is active participation rather than passive presence” (p. 233) and this demanding sort of cooperation is earned, in a rehearsal process, and lays the groundwork for complex cooperation later in life.The proposed study will yield empirical evidence related to his argument that the fates of (young) people, strangers, within and across the global North and South are increasingly diverging as inequality grows more pronounced in neoliberal regimes. Sennett also offered new ways to think about empathy in interculturalexchange thatmay open the possibility for a critical responsiveness that respects the other’s own relations and world.Sennett believes that sympathy often aims to overcome differences through acts of identification while empathy remains an encounter, which invites us to attend to another person on his or her own terms. The proposed study will advance this position theoretically by clarifying what purpose we serve as a presence in the lives of distant others when we share our own and receive others’ theatre creations.

Theoretical Framework: Ecological Thinking and Cooperation:
Civic disengagement has become a distinctive characteristic of contemporary perceptions about young people. However, the emphasis on individual irresponsibility within neoliberal characterizations of youth neglects the crucial components of community and communication in young people’s civic interests. This study builds on the fundamental argument that the process of creating theatre together is itself a process of civic engagement with symbolic and material value, as well as being an important rehearsal for broader forms of civic engagement beyond schools.Ecological thinking, as described by Canadian philosopher Lorraine Code, and cooperation, as defined by social theorist Richard Sennett, together shape the framework for the theoretical contributions of this study. Using Code’s appeal to the symbolic value of the imagination and Sennett’s philosophical reading of the real, material consequences of cooperation, our results will provide empirical evidence and theoretical support for the idea that theatre as a mode of collective and communicative engagement delivers the experience of, and creates the context for, re-imagining oneself as an active and caring citizen.

For Code, ecological thinking, or ideal co-habitation, relies heavily on the social imagination. My theoretical extension of this position is that such a social imaginary can be provoked by, and cultivated through, a theatrical imaginary. Code’s work juxtaposed the importance of an instituting rather than an instituted imaginary. An instituting imaginary can interrogate the social structure to “destabilize its pretentions to naturalness and wholeness, to initiate new meaning” (Code 2006, p. 31). She argued that the instituting imaginary is a vehicle of radical social critique; it requires thinking and acting away from the received conceptions of knowledge, subjectivity, responsibility, and agency. (p. 33). If disaffected youth are to begin to understand themselves and others differently, they will need pedagogical practices and research experiences that regenerate this kind of imagination. Our theatre work and intercultural sharing will help disrupt the mono-cultural and mono-logical ways in which youth have been represented, and help re-evaluate ossified assumptions about young people’s disengagement from civic life.

In his latest book, Together: The Rituals, Pleasures and Politics of Cooperation, social theorist Richard Sennett illustrated the power of cooperation to countervail the social dangers of what he calls, “The Uncooperative Self” (2012, p. 179). He argued that certain models of working – an architecture of cooperation – may establish political togetherness in the wider public sphere. He argued that the nub of cooperation, “is active participation rather than passive presence” (p. 233) and this demanding sort of cooperation is earned, in a rehearsal process, and lays the groundwork for complex cooperation later in life.The proposed study will yield empirical evidence related to his argument that the fates of (young) people, strangers, within and across the global North and South are increasingly diverging as inequality grows more pronounced in neoliberal regimes. Sennett also offered new ways to think about empathy in interculturalexchange thatmay open the possibility for a critical responsiveness that respects the other’s own relations and world.Sennett believes that sympathy often aims to overcome differences through acts of identification while empathy remains an encounter, which invites us to attend to another person on his or her own terms. The proposed study will advance this position theoretically by clarifying what purpose we serve as a presence in the lives of distant others when we share our own and receive others’ theatre creations.

August 2014
Professor Kathleen Gallagher

Canada Research Chair, Ontario Institute for Studies in Education, University of Toronto