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Submit a Manuscript to the Journal

Research in Drama Education: The Journal of Applied Theatre and Performance

For a Special Issue on

Confronting the Global Climate Crisis: Responsibility, Agency, and Action

Abstract deadline
31 January 2023

Manuscript deadline
15 December 2023

Cover image - Research in Drama Education: The Journal of Applied Theatre and Performance

Special Issue Editor(s)

Rachel Turner-King, University of Warwick
[email protected]

Bobby Smith, University of Warwick
[email protected]

Submit an ArticleVisit JournalArticles

Confronting the Global Climate Crisis: Responsibility, Agency, and Action

In 2012, Deirdre Heddon and Sally Mackey’s themed issue of RiDE made an explicit plea for a deeper ‘critical engagement’ with environmentalism, education and applied drama, theatre, and performance. In the decade since, the discourse around climate change has shifted to reflect the immediacy of rising temperatures and ecological catastrophes: a climate crisis and emergency that requires urgent action (IPCC 2022). This necessitates a reengagement with the challenge of exploring, understanding, and representing the crisis in our field and, particularly, how the idea of responsibility underpins or complicates such work and related action.

It is our contention that issues of responsibility intersect with three areas of concern. First, determining geopolitical responsibility for the crisis, particularly regarding its globalised emergence and destructive trajectory, is complex. Naomi Klein (2015) shows that there are varying scales of responsibility: the richest pollute the most and, due to legacies of colonialism and the pursuit of continued economic growth, the historic impact of countries in the Global North far outweighs that of those in the South, where communities are most affected. This has led Leon Sealey-Huggins (2018) to argue that the climate crisis exacerbates ethnic, cultural, and racial discrimination, most evident amongst endangered indigenous communities (United Nations, 2008). Second, demands for action often emphasise personal responsibility on a micro level, with citizens asked to make “eco-conscious” changes to their daily lifestyles. However, Klein (2015) proposes that placing responsibility on individuals is a cynical attempt by governments and multinational corporations to avoid interrogating macro level power structures, resulting in failed systemic change. Further, as we are witnessing in the UK, the intersecting ‘energy’ and ‘cost of living’ crises complicate individuals’ capacity to act responsibly when many face precarious living conditions. However, as Rebecca Solnit writes, there is a profound danger in ‘excusing inaction’ (Solnit, 2022). She finds optimism and hope in grassroots youth-led climate protests as powerful, potent disruptions to mass denial, inertia, and despair. Given that our practice and research often take place within under-resourced and disenfranchised communities, how do we ensure we are attuned to the shifting dynamics of blame, responsibility, agency, and action? Third, engaging with the climate crisis provokes critical and personal reflection for researchers. As Kathleen Gallagher asks about global warming, ‘Who's responsible? How am I complicit? Are ‘victim’ or ‘oppressor’ the only available subject positions in this mess of late capitalism, economic injustice, and ‘first world’ greed?’ (2006, 96).

There are few easy answers to the questions that emerge from thinking about issues of responsibility. In terms of theatre and performance practice, Una Chaudhuri and Shonni Enelow (2014) argue we should embrace a state of ‘not-knowing’ and Baz Kershaw’s enigmatic, outdoor immersive maze, the Meadow Meander project, invited participants to ‘abandon knowledge’ and adopt a state of ‘unknowing’ (Heron and Kershaw, 2017, 21). Likewise, following arguments made within environmental education, it is our suggestion that didactic responses, concerned with bestowing scientific ‘facts’ or prompting individual behavioural change, cannot adequately address the complex, messy realities of the climate crisis. As Olof Franck (2017, 2) argues, ‘sustainability education’ must avoid becoming a ‘forum for the transmission of values’ and a ‘pseudo-democratic’ space of potential ‘indoctrination’. Rather, carefully crafted spaces of agency are required, where imaginative and creative debate, dialogue and potentially activism can manifest. This resonates with arguments made by Lisa Woynarski (2020), who asserts that theatre and performance must avoid becoming a reductive instrument to communicate or change behaviour and should engage with the nuanced, sensory, and affective qualities of different ‘ecodramaturgies’. Woynarski’s rejection of ‘dominant anthropocentric’ responses connects with recent examples of socially engaged performance that have turned towards entangled human relationships with landscapes (Haedicke, 2021) and non-human and interspecies interdependencies (Chaudhuri and Enelow, 2014). Here, decolonial struggles and frameworks, such as Latin American concepts of Buen Vivir and African concepts of Ubuntu, which resist extractivist relationships to Earth and aim to find balance between human and non-human life (Kothari et al. 2019), could interact with educational and applied theatre approaches in productive and creative ways.

This issue invites researchers, educators, and practitioners to confront the climate crisis with a revived interest in the diverse pedagogical, ethical, aesthetic, and sensory qualities of our work. Given the complexity of this “wicked problem”, we contend that more playful, relational, experimental, and multi-disciplinary modes of engagement are required. Further, regarding our responsibilities as practitioners and researchers, we must also recognise and attend to the feelings and emotions of anxiety, anger, grief, and hopelessness many participants may experience when confronting the climate crisis (Lawrance et al. 2022; Nadarajah et al. 2022). In what ways can creativity, curiosity, fun, and playful experimentation engender caring and hopeful responses to an overwhelming, gloomy sense of fatalism? Simultaneously, should playful and experimental methodologies make way for more activistic and politically oriented approaches? To this end, we invite a reconsideration (or ‘upcycling’ of) Augusto Boal’s (1979) notion that participatory theatre can provide a ‘rehearsal for revolution’. Is rehearsal, with all its emphasis on practising and preparing, radical enough when the science is telling us we need to act and youth activists such as Greta Thunberg are rejecting the empty rhetoric of hope and demanding change (Turner-King, 2020)? We invite contributions that respond the following questions:

  • Who is responsible for making change and how do we use drama and theatre as ways of exploring agency, power, and voice?
  • Do those involved in applied theatre, whether participants, audiences, practitioners, or researchers, need to turn more squarely towards activism given the urgency of this issue?
  • What multidisciplinary approaches exist, or need to exist, to explore the climate crisis? How are practitioners working across fields including education for sustainable development, politics, science, and more?
  • If there are no simple answers to address the climate crisis, how does this shape the ethics and aesthetics of our participatory work?

Submission Instructions

This themed issue will feature research articles (c.6,000) and other forms of contributions such as interviews, provocations, practitioner statements and case studies (c.1,500) as well as creative contributions, such as photo essays or online outputs (10-15 minutes).

Online outputs could include recorded conversations between researchers, practitioners and/or participants, clips of performances and/or workshops, and more. All submissions will be reviewed by two anonymous referees and by the editors.

Please send 300-word proposals for contributions, plus 100-word biographies for each contributor, to Rachel Turner-King [[email protected]] and Bobby Smith [[email protected]].


Proposal for contributions: Jan 31st 2023

First drafts: 31st May 2023

Final drafts: 31st August 2023

Final copy deadline: 15th December 2023

Publication: Early 2024

Instructions for AuthorsSubmit an Article

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