Identity and creativity: The transformative potential of drama lessons



The article introduces an approach to study of identity in children placed in categories associated with disadvantage. It gives an example of the way in which pupils who are on the FSM (Free School Meals) register can experience the transformative potential of drama in relation to identities within school and beyond. This represents a challenge to the understanding of drama as providing a chance to “express” oneself and instead suggests that drama provides opportunities for the exploration of identities, which are fictitious.

General Information

Keywords: identity, creativity, drama lessons, notion of self

Journal rubric: Educational Psychology and Pedagogical Psychology

Article type: scientific article

For citation: Daniels H., Downes E. Identity and creativity: The transformative potential of drama lessons [Elektronnyi resurs]. Sovremennaia zarubezhnaia psikhologiia = Journal of Modern Foreign Psychology, 2014. Vol. 3, no. 2, pp. 41–71.

Full text


In schools, children's identities are, to some extent, prescribed, for example, they are placed in categories of need and difficulty. Schools differ in the extent to which they maintain relations of power and control which are realised in 'status' relations witnessed in pedagogic practices. Children become 'pupils' or 'students' or become members of categories of attainment. Some may qualify for 'Free School Meals' (FSM) which is often taken as the prime index of poverty in the UK. Membership of this group is often, erroneously, assumed to be predictive of outcomes for a particular individual. Pedagogic responses to children who are placed in categories associated with disadvantage are often characterised by increases in teacher control over the selection and sequencing of content, the pacing of progression through curriculum content and the criteria of evaluation [9]. In a comparison of low and high socio-economic status (SES) settings in Scotland, Duffield [12] reports reduced levels of opportunity for discussion and the achievement of group consensus in low SES settings. She attributes this to teachers' anxiety about control and wariness about pupil autonomy in low SES settings. These low SES students are placed pedagogic contexts which offer little by way of opportunity for engagement in the transformation of social relations, order and identity. The particular focus for this chapter is on an example of the way in which pupils who are on the FSM register can experience the transformative potential of drama in relation to identities within school and beyond. This represents a challenge to the understanding that 'drama' allows you to 'express yourself rather it suggests that drama provides opportunities for the exploration of identities which are fictitious. As such it provides all participants with respite from the constraints of notions of 'self which arise when membership of categories are allocated and pedagogies assume a focus on a narrow conception of learning.

Much has been made of the enduring poor attainment of pupils on the FSM register in comparison to their peers, whose 'identity of disadvantage in school' (FSM) may shape attitudes and values towards school in general and specifically towards practices of learning [21][I]. In many schools they are now seen as vulnerable. The irony of nature of this vulnerability appears to be lost. One response is that they are vulnerable to inappropriate pedagogies. In contrast to the rigid pedagogic practices that may operate within the rest of the curriculum, the drama classroom may offer a temporary lull through the creation of 'negotiated' identities and mediated relations of power and control. Drama is a powerful tool for creating contexts that may provide the opportunity to renegotiate identities.

In writing this chapter we are attempting to develop a novel synthesis of our own ideas that, to some extent, are complementary and, to some extent, are divergent. {1} In the interpersonal exchanges in which we have engaged, there has been a process of mutual transformation. As Van der Veer and Valsiner [26] note, from a Vygotskian perspective, reasoning against other viewpoints can lead to a breakpoint for novel "synthesis" [26, p. 393]. They also argue that as we make the ideas of others our own, we do not merely copy them rather they are "analyzed and reassembled in novel ways — the individual is a co-constructor of culture rather than a mere follower of the enculturation efforts of others" [26, p. 395]. {2} This is nontrivial because the mediational means of our disciplinary backgrounds provide alternative forms of representation. On the basis of the complementarity that exists between us, we have sought to transform and synthesize our legacy understandings to generate a novel perspective on a common interest. In this sense, we have engaged in the processes that are the object of the chapter.

Theoretical background

The work of a group of early 20th-century Russian social scientists, including Vygotsky, Luria and Leontiev is influencing a great deal of contemporary thinking on the social formation of mind including those aspects of human functioning that are said to witness creativity [28]. Above all he was seeking to develop a liberationist version of social formation in which rather than being pinioned by history, individuals contributed to the creation of cultural tools which they used to change the world.

Vygotsky [28] developed accounts of human action and activity in which cultural artifacts, such as speech, mediate human engagement with aspects of the social, cultural historical situations in which they were located. These artifacts or tools are human products that are taken up, developed, and transformed in the course of human activity. The emphasis is on the social production of artifacts that can be used as tools of both personal and social development and change. This cultural historical perspective on creativity has been summarised by Glaveanu.

The new artifact (material or conceptual) is seen as emerging within the relation between self (creator) and others (broadly understood as a community), all three being immersed into and in dialogue with an existing body of cultural artifacts, symbols and established norms. This model is not structural but dynamic since it is in the "tensions" between all four elements that creativity takes shape with the "new artifact" becoming part of "existing culture" (for self and/or community) and constantly alimenting the creative cycle [13, p. 12].

Social and cultural tools are historical products, and creativity involves their deployment in the cultural context of the here-and-now. Vygotsky [27] started with a conception of creativity as "a historical, cumulative process" [27, p. 30]. This sense of creativity capitalizing on the past is exemplified in the following, more recent statement "the most eminent are those creators who best utilize the social and cultural tools and best fit with the social and cultural expectations of their time" [23, p. 80].

{2} The concern has been to develop an account in which humans were seen as "making themselves from the outside" rather than being dominated and controlled from the outside. Through acting on things in the world, they engage with the meanings that those things assumed within social activity. Humans both shape those meanings and are shaped by them. {3} This understanding is exemplified in recent research on creativity when it is understood as: "studying the intrapersonal dynamics of creative processes in the context of the inter-personal relations that make it possible" [14, p. 63].

Vygotsky developed his well known but frequently misunderstood, concept of the Zone of Proximal Development, as a means of discussing the way in which social and participatory learning takes place and development is facilitated [19]. This was integrated into his theory of play. It was argued that in play the child could temporarily become 'higher than his average age, higher than his usual everyday behaviour; he is in play as if a head above himself [26]. This concept is often referenced in pedagogic initiatives which claim a Vygotskian heritage. However a myriad of misinterpretations bedevil much of this literature.

Chaiklin (2003) suggests that much of what has been discussed under the rubric of the ZPD misses the central theoretical insistence on social influences leading development. The distinction between microgenesis and ontogenesis is missed in, what for Chaiklin, are misinterpretations of the original formulation of ZPD in its instructional frame of reference. Valsiner provides another important cautionary note that must enter into this debate. He reminds us that much of the empirical work that has been undertaken runs the risk of confusing microgentic and ontogenetic processes.

'There exists an unwarranted (and implicit) assumption in received empirical practices in developmental psychology to consider the microgenetic and ontogenetic levels of development similar in their organisation' [26].

The term scaffolding, which is often deployed as an operational derivation of the ZPD, could be taken to infer a 'one-way' process within the 'scaffolder' constructs the scaffold alone and presents it for use to the novice. Newman, Griffin & Cole [25], argued that the ZPD is created through negotiation between the more advanced partner and the learner, rather than through the donation of a scaffold as some kind of prefabricated climbing frame. There is a similar emphasis on negotiation in Tharp and Gallimore (1988), who discussed 'teaching as assisted performance', in those stages of the ZPD where assistance is required. The key question here seems to be with respect to where the 'hints', 'supports', or 'scaffold' comes from. Are they produced by 'the more capable partner' or are they negotiated? Vygotsky is unclear on this matter...

Chaiklin (2003) suggests that terms such as scaffolding should be reserved for practices which are designed to teach specific skills and subject matter concepts as against instruction designed to serve explicitly developmental purposes (Chaiklin, 2003, p. 59). With respect to creativity, Newman, Griffin, and Cole [25] argued that the ZPD arises in negotiation between the more advanced partner and the learner, rather than through the donation of a scaffold as some kind of prefabricated climbing frame. Cole and Griffin [8] mount a strong criticism of the scaffolding metaphor based on the extent to which the child's creativity is underplayed. The argument that different settings and activities give rise to spaces, within the ZPD for creative exploration rather than pedagogic domination, is at the heart of their position: "Adult wisdom does not provide a teleology for child development. Social organization and leading activities provide a gap within which the child can develop novel creative analyses" [8, p. 62]. This carries important implications for pedagogic practice. The argument is that the creativity inherent in learning and transformation should be seen in dialogic terms rather than a skill to be transmitted. In the same way that Cole and Griffin caution against acts of pedagogic imperialism, Vygotsky urges us to recognise the centrality of creativity to the entire educational enterprise.

In a seminal work, Vygotsky [27] recognized the importance of the development of creativity through schooling and also rejected the notion of creativity as the product of sudden inspiration. He argued that the active promotion of creativity was a central function of schooling:

We should emphasize the particular importance of cultivating creativity in school-age children. The entire future of humanity will be attained through the creative imagination; orientation to the future, behaviour based on the future and derived from this future, is the most important function of the imagination. To the extent that the main educational objective of teaching is guidance of school children's behaviour so as to prepare them for the future, development and exercise of the imagination should be one of the main forces enlisted for the attainment of this goal [27].

His analysis of the development of creativity is marked by an emphasis on inter­functional relations that resonates throughout his work. He argued that children are not necessarily more creative than adults, rather that they have less control and critical judgment over the products of their imagination. He suggests that as rational thought develops so does critical judgment, and that the tendency is for adolescents to become increasingly dissatisfied with the products of their imagination if they do not acquire appropriate "cultural and technical factors" or tools with which to engage in creative activity.

Adults dismiss their creative output if they are not given the tools to do this sort of work. In the context of this chapter, this position forces us to reflect on the ways in which lessons in drama can provide new tools for creativity not least by virtue of their capacity to bring multiple perspectives explicitly into view.

Vygotsky argues that creativity is a social process that requires appropriate tools, artifacts, and cultures in which to thrive. He extends this analysis to social class with a comment on creativity which will doubtless cause a little discomfort when read by 21st century western eyes.

Every inventor, even a genius, is also a product of his time and his environment. His creations arise from needs that were created before him and rest on capacities that also exist outside of him. This is why we emphasize that there is a strict sequence in the historical development of science and technology. No invention or scientific discovery can occur before the material and psychological conditions necessary for it to occur have appeared. Creation is a historical, cumulative process where every succeeding manifestation was determined by the preceding one. This explains the disproportionate distribution of innovators and creators among different classes. The privileged classes supply an incomparably greater percent of scientific, technical, and artistic creators, because it is in these classes that all the conditions needed for creation are present. Vygotsky [27, p. 30—31].

This position has been adapted by Wertsch and Tulviste who talk of creativity, as 'transformation of an existing pattern of action, a new use for an old tool' [32] and Wertsch [30; 31] reminds us that individuals' histories with regard to cultural tools are an important element in the development of mediated action. He argues that when Vygotsky uses the term 'mental function' he does so with reference to social interaction and to individual processes. In this sense mental functions may be seen to be carried by groups as well as individuals. He sees ability as the capacity to function with the tool and also talks of mind being socially distributed, belonging to dyads and larger groups who can think, attend and remember together [30; 31].

Thus, a Vygotskian understanding of creativity: acknowledges its pervasiveness; understands the centrality of tools for creativity; and recognizes the importance of the social organization of pedagogy that promotes creativity. When brought together these elements of practices that promote creativity have importance implications for learning that transforms identities.

Learning as a process is linked with identity formation as in Brown and Duguid [6] who see learning as demand driven, a social act, and as identity formation. Lave and Wenger argue that persons 'become' as they come to progressively involve themselves with the activities of a community. In this way learning means to move from peripheral participation to full membership within a knowledge community [20]. This theme is also pursued by Holland, et al. [18] and Wenger [29] who theorized identity as a 'way of talking about how learning changes who we are and creates personal histories of becoming in the context of our communities':

'We have attempted to articulate the relation of person and society in a way that makes light of neither social life nor the world of the psyche. At the same time, we reject a dichotomy between the sociological and the psychological. 'Person' and "society' are alike as sites, or moments of the production and reproduction of social practices. But there is a substantiality to both sites. (: : :) Forms of personhood and forms of society are historical products, intimate and public, that situate the interactivity of social practices. It is in this doubly historical landscape that we place human identities. We take identity to be a central means by which selves, and the sets of actions they organize, form and re-form over personal lifetimes and in the histories of social col­lectivities' [18, p. 270].

Dorothy Holland et al. [18] have studied the development of identities and agency specific to historically situated, socially enacted, culturally constructed worlds. They reference Bakhtin [1; 2] and Vygotsky as they develop a theory of identity as constantly forming and person as a composite of many often contradictory, self understandings and identities which are distributed across the material and social environment and rarely durable. They draw on Leontiev in the development of the concept of socially organized and reproduced figured worlds which shape and are shaped by participants and in which social position establishes possibilities for engagement. They also argue that figured worlds:

[Distribute 'us' not only by relating actors to landscapes of action (as personae) and spreading our senses of self across many different fields of activity, but also by giving the landscape human voice and tone. - underlining).

Holland et al deploy the Bakhtinian concept of the 'space of authoring' is deployed to capture an understanding of the mutual shaping of figured worlds and identities in social practice. Holland et al. also argue that multiple identities are developed within figured worlds and that these are "historical developments, grown through continued participation in the positions defined by the social organization of those world's activity" [18, p. 41]. Identity formation is a social activity that may take place is the unseen minutiae of interaction. It is as much a collective activity in the here and now as it has been through history.

"just as electricity is equally present in a storm with deafening thunder and blinding lightning and in the operation of a pocket flashlight, in the same way, creativity is present, in actuality, not only when great historical works are born but also whenever a person imagines, combines, alters, and creates something new, no matter how small a drop in the bucket this new thing appears compared to the works of geniuses. When we consider the phenomenon of collective creativity, which combines all these drops of individual creativity that frequently are insignificant in themselves, we readily understand what an enormous percentage of what has been created by humanity is a product of the anonymous collective creative work of unknown inventors [27, p. 10—11].

This points to the importance of the cultures of the school which form the setting for collective creative working and activity and the importance of the individual, the collective and the social in arriving at an understanding of the underlying processes and structures. The drama classroom provides a space for experimental refiguring of the landscape of the social world of the young person. Arguably this is particularly important for someone who has been positioned in the institutions of schooling as vulnerable, disadvantaged or unacceptable.

Further questions relate to the ways in which the 'figured' world of the drama lesson impacts on the 'real' everyday world. More specifically, how do the participants in the drama renegotiate themselves and the relation of others to them in the world beyond the drama classroom? The exchange during 'in role' work creates the possibility for such reorientations to meaning and understanding of the self. After this moment of in role work participants are able to be dissect, analyse and discuss. This has implications for all to extend their own maps of the world. Children are natural experts in this practice, from the moment they enter the school, they are shaped and formed by the social and cultural practices modelled by those already operating in that context.

This approach to a theory of identity in practice is grounded in the notion of a figured world in which positions are taken up constructed and resisted. We will now move to a discussion of the ways in which these understandings of processes of social formation may be relevant to drama in secondary schools.

Case study of this perspective on drama in secondary school

What follows is a case study drawn from the teaching experience of one of the authors. It was selected in order to provide a glimpse of the way in which drama can provide the context for the exploration of reinterpretations of the past, resignification in the present and new possibilities for the future. The challenge is to co-create a context in which participants accept the possibility of transformation (s). In doing so they may seek resolution or re-negotiation through the temporary 'role'.

"....children can intellectually and emotionally exist simultaneously and effectually in two worlds; one real but suspended as far as necessary, and one that is fictional but it is the 'operational' world of the drama" [5].

A useful example of this moment would be an exchange through 'improvisation' — a technique by which both participants adopt a role different to the socially and formally agreed one identified at the beginning of the discourse. Participants are able to enter a temporary moment of transformation and it is in this moment that , following Holland et al. [18] 'identities' can be negotiated, through dialogue and action. In one sense they engage in the process of 'rewriting' themselves and repositioning themselves in the narratives of their everyday life. They may engage in some form of expansive learning through being placed in situations in which contradictions which previously been invisible are rendered visible and open to conscious reflection. They are both immersed in a context but also given the opportunity of distancing themselves from the events. This resonates with the view of development that Yaroshevsky [33] attributes to Vygotsky. Rather than understanding a stage of development through the ladder like metaphor associated with Piaget, Yaroshevsky suggests that Vygotsky had a dramaturgical notion in mind when he invoked the word 'stage'. The idea was that of a stage where two planes, the personal and the social, were in play. When these two planes collided as a result of incommensura­bility between personal understandings and social situations then a reforming of both may occur. Yaroshevsky argues that it was through his early association with the dramatist Stanislavsky and the poet Mandelstam (whose reading group he attended) that Vygotsky developed this understanding of 'stage'. If it is the case that he was thinking in this way it certainly opens the way for an understanding of identity work as the recognition, and possibly the understanding of tensions and contradictions and their on-going resolution. Drama lessons can provide settings in which participants can both immerse themselves in the action of a Vygotskian stage and also seek to understand the ways in which personal change can become possible.

One key element in the construction of pedagogic settings that promote creativity is the conscious adjustment of relations of power and control. Many drama practitioners will recognise the layout of a circle as a starting position for the lesson. Immediately, this configuration subverts the traditional layout of a classroom which positions the teacher at the front of the class with the pupils facing towards them. In a circle, the participants are encouraged to be inclusive and equal, with both pupils and teacher sharing the space. Whilst it is still possible to identify the teacher as 'different' and retaining the power (s) of a teacher, there is at least the potential for pupils to negotiate their role within this classroom.

This potential is further strengthened through the process of 'contracting' — whereby the participants attempt to find a suitable paradigm for collaborative work. Neelands [24] outlines four key purposes for undertaking such an endeavour.

In each of the four areas of 'contracting', the pupils have equal responsibility for the creation and maintenance of the context. This collective responsibility prepares the space for renegotiation of role and identities and does so in such a way that the individual is protected by the agreement of the group. This exemplifies the argument of the primacy of the social in the shaping of the individual. It also attests to the understanding of the space of authoring in the landscape of the social world discussed by Holland et al. [18] and Vygotsky's understanding of creative creativity. This may be the only opportunity pupils have to participate in a democratic process during their time at school. As such, the pupil's role and identity becomes that of 'citizen' within a potentially democratic classroom. These negotiations occur prior to any 'drama' taking place, but are a social necessity in order to establish the explicit and tacit understandings for those who will participate. Delpit [11] in 'Other People's Children' identified five aspects of this 'culture' of power and stated: 'The rules of the culture of power are a reflection of the rules of the culture of those who have power.' In a traditional classroom, this may reflect the power that the teacher has over the pupils, in the role of a position of responsibility and dominance.

'If you are not already a participant in the culture of power, being told explicitly the rules of that culture makes acquiring power easier' [11].

In the next stage of the drama lesson, the acquisition of power becomes possible as the participants become 'players' in which the rules are made explicit (through the sharing and distribution of influence).

The culture of power through 'drama' is that it enables existing social orders to be reexamined and negotiated through the lenses of multiple perspectives. Through participation or as a spectator, traditional hegemonic structure is disrupted and may be permanently transformed. According to Leland and Harste:

A change or reframing of an old perception occurs as students are able to arrange or alternate previous assumptions. The imagination works as a stage to play out our roles and juxtapose ideas giving us the ability to see the other side, to weigh alternatives, and use what some refer to as intuition. Leland and Harste [22]'.

Dorothy Heathcote [15; 16] provides insights into how pupils might have the opportunity to experience 'transformation' through engagement and participation within a drama lesson. It is possible to identify aspects of her work that can be aligned with the theories and beliefs of Vygotsky relating to how children learn. In the chapter 'Contexts for Active Learning' Heathcote proposes four theoretical models, two of which will form the framework for the exploration of transformative role (s), transitionary identities and empowerment.

(The First Model) — Drama used to explore people, their behaviour, their circumstances, their responses to events which affect them................. around this 'pure' form there

have developed a network of other forms of exploring people and events invented by a variety of teachers to serve their own interests and beliefs....

Model 2: Mantle of the Expert....means opportunity to work at knowledge and master the skills. 'Mantle' means I declare my calling and live up to what is expected of me in the community.' [10] ( 2008/ 05/dh-contexts-for-active-learning.pdf).

Underpinning her work are assumptions about the nature of learning which echo those who have been influenced by Vygotsky. Learning involves the mutual shaping of person and setting and in schools the active role of teachers and peers in the social co-construction of solutions to problems using the tools and signs that are made available. In the arts these tools can activate the imagination and crystallise belief. The arts utilise form and structure to express ideas and emotions.

Here lies the importance of the potential of drama for (creative) learning and working with imagination (s). This rests on an understanding of the importance of both external human activity and internal interactions (and reflection) for learning. Drama whether it be scripted or improvised, is a microcosm of events that reflect events and possible events in the real world. As such, participation in the drama provides opportunities for pupils to challenge or subvert the identities they normally assume (willingly or not). This is both emancipatory and provides temporary relief from the limited power that pupils hold within the socio-cultural relationships in the school. Drama offers the possibility for the construction of 'interrupts' in the ongoing flow of life in school. The refiguring of the landscape and the transformation of identity may result. This may entail voluntary or involuntary participation in trajectories that lead to contestation of the identities, donated through the ways in which processes of categorisation operate within institutions (e.g. schooling).

The power structures evidenced in the traditional hierarchies of schooling may be reviewed, including those between the pupils themselves. During a drama lesson, pupils are able to observe each other and model alternatives for interpretation. Boal [3] developed 'Forum Theatre' in which a play or scene, usually indicating some kind of oppression, is shown twice. Participants are allowed to interrupt, and exchange places with one of the oppressed characters. The intention is that they show how the situation may be changed to enable a different outcome. The activity may involve the exploration of several different alternatives. The remaining participants stay in character and improvise their responses. A facilitator enables communication between the players and the audience. This strategy subverts and restructures traditional relationships with the between actors and audiences. It enables participants to develop, and reflect on courses of action which could be applicable to their everyday lives. This may promote the development of alternatives to established identities and newly shared understandings. Many drama-in-education pedagogical approaches blur the boundaries between actor and spectator, immediately creating the opportunity for dialogue and interaction in both assumed and given identities.

This is evident in the development, sharing and exploration of participants' opinion, thoughts, feelings and values in the drama lesson. Through the lens or voice of the 'role' divergent or conflicting modes can be resolved or sustained. Importantly, the opportunity to 're-play' the moment can serve to find alternative resolutions — in which new identities may be created. This may well be evidenced in the dialogue and discussions pre and post the moment in which the 'drama' occurs. During the exchange of dialogue, to what extent is the participant able to create and develop the role or identity is dependent on how capable of using the tools the individual is. An example of this could be where by a view that is contradictory to that held by the individual is shared through the lens of the role. Through negotiation and use of drama strategies, pupils are empowered to structure imagination so that their world (s) become meaningful in a shared reality. As O'Neill emphasises:

'It is imagination that allows both teacher and students to devise alternative modes of action, alternative projects and solutions, and imagination is at the heart of this complex way of thinking' [17].

The following brief example is drawn from a lesson in a large secondary school in the British Midlands. The event is selected in order to provide an indication of how pupils are able to assume the position of authority, with power and status through interaction with 'Teacher in Role' (TIR).

To set the scene, the Teacher assumes the role of a young refugee whose son is unwilling to speak. Her attempts to settle peacefully in the local community are thwarted by the sustained attack on her and her family home. The dramatic pretext is identified as a bucket, cloth and cleaning spray. Prior to the 'start' of the drama, the pupils share through discussion and analysis of the 'symbols' (props), what they believe may happen in the following dramatic moment.

The TIR as the refugee enters the dramatic space, collects the bucket and cloth and begins to scrub the wall which is covered with abusive graffiti. Turning directly to the audience she speaks:

"Why do you do this to me?"

It is at this point that the pupils are able to enter the drama — in a role(s) suggested and negotiated through the group. By assuming a role in the moment of fiction, the participants are able to explore possible responses, in a way that protects them from the restraints of reality and 'self. This enables individuals to voice thoughts, fears and concerns through the lens of 'role', which in turn, reflects the everyday reality of life. The teacher poses the following question to the group: 'Who might witness this moment?'. Individuals respond and then take on the role of the person they volunteered. Examples could include neighbours, police, postal delivery person.

The child (as in role of neighbour) may offer tea and sympathy, exploring ways in which they may help. Alternatively, the role of the perpetrator may be presented. Through the protection of 'role' it is possible to examine ambiguities and conflicting moralities, to re-examine what these might mean in our shared reality. As Bolton [4] states 'Heathcote's two basic, related assumptions underlying her drama praxis were, ....that participants engage with making meanings and those meanings relate to a human struggle.' This engagement has trans­formative potential.

Drama can provide a situation for the development of alternative ways of thinking and feeling about the world and one's position within it. Through the careful structuring of social encounters the teacher can help young people to do the kind of 'identity work', which is absent from many other curriculum settings.

To requote Holland et al. [18].

Cultural worlds are populated by familiar social types and even identifiable persons, not simply differentiated by some abstract division of labour. The identities we gain within figured worlds are thus specifically historical developments, grown through continued participation in the positions defined by the social organization of those world's activity [18, p. 41].

We argue that drama provides the opportunity for a form of social intervention that can help to subvert some of "positions defined by the social organization" and offer the possibility of a form of learning which enables them to experience a change in subject position and to reflect on that change. They are learning to see familiar landscapes from new positions. This is made possible through moments of collective creativity which sow the seeds of personal change. They bring personal histories into new settings and have the opportunity of standing outside familiar trajectories in order to contemplate new realities. As Vygotsky and Bakhtin remind us, learning of this kind involves the mutual shaping of person and place in the world. In one sense Vygostky saw life as progression through an ongoing series of dramatic encounters in which collisions between person and situation and their dialectical resolution were the very engine of existence. If education is supposed to prepare young people for later life then drama lessons are a most important way of understanding the nature of experience that lies ahead. They stand in stark contrast to the pre­deliction for control and 'on-task' behaviour, where the task is reading or writing, that so many low SES young people encounter, perhaps especially when they have entered the pedagogic world of 'being a FSM' pupil.


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Information About the Authors

Harry Daniels, PhD, Professor, Fellow of Green Templeton College, Department of Education, Oxford, Great Britain, e-mail:

Emma Downes, Curriculum Co-ordinator for Drama, Bartley Green School, Birmingham, Birmingham, Great Britain, e-mail:



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