Understanding our responses to environmental change

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The Drama of the Resilience

Our latest paper is titled ‘The drama of resilience: learning, doing and sharing for sustainability’ and is newly published in the journal Ecology and Society – you can access it here. The paper explores the use of participatory and community theatre to understand how different people in different places deal with change, and how they can come together to address common challenges and find solutions together. It describes the processes of devising performances in southern coastal Kenya and in Cornwall, UK, during 2015 as part of our project ‘You, me and our resilience’. We used two variants of participation theatre to explore different aspects of communities’ vulnerability and resilience to global change. In Kenya we used forum theatre, which aims to empower and help communities to find solutions to the common problems that they face, producing a drama called ‘Gangavasi’. In Cornwall we used a form of site-specific or promenade theatre involving the audience in the series of place based scenes in a performance of ‘Weather the Storm’ exploring loss and grief after a destructive storm.

The paper brings these two experiences together, and discusses what we can learn about resilience from engagement in creative practices such as participatory theatre. Community and participatory theatre have long been used in development and in health education. But our use is different from usual applications, as the forms we used aim to empower people to find their own solutions rather than disseminating externally-generated scientific or technical knowledge. We identify three key contributions of these practices to resilience thinking; three ‘E’s’.

The first E is Experiential resilience, whereby drama emphasised and uncovered the capacities people draw on to negotiate the multiple and intersecting stressors that challenge them;
The second E concerns the Emotional aspects of resilience and change which are enacted through the performances, which engage participants but are also under-emphasised in current research on resilience, but are extremely compelling in understanding how people respond to and shape change in their communities;
The third E is Empathy – our performances enabled participants and audiences to explore the actions and opportunities of others through role playing and to understand others experiences.

In recent months, I’ve presented this work at LSE, Stockholm University and Global Development Institute at Manchester University. You can see a video of the GDI presentation here, and also read a blog from Dr Robbie Watt from International Politics at Manchester in response to my presentation.

The paper title, of course, makes reference to the seminal work from 2002, ‘Drama of the Commons’ edited by Elinor Ostrom and colleagues, which explored the multifaceted relations and interactions, and the different contexts of common property resource management, effectively refuting the ‘tragedy of the common’ narrative. The drama of resilience lies in the many different experiences of change, the struggles to deal with many interlocking stressors which poor people, marginalised people, and coastal people around the world face, and in the power of creative practice to inspire and stimulate social change. Working with the two theatre groups – SAFE Kenya and Golden Tree Productions in Cornwall- has been a privilege and has taught me a lot the crucial role of creative practitioners as social change agents. It has enriched my work immensely and I am very grateful to have had the opportunity to work with so many gifted and committed artists.

The project was supported by AXA Research Fund.

Brown, K., N. Eernstman, A. R. Huke and N. Reding. 2017. The drama ofresilience: learning, doing, and sharing for sustainability. Ecology and Society22 (2):8. [online] URL: https://www.ecologyandsociety.org/vol22/iss2/art8/

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