Participatory Theatre As Transformed Social Scientific Research Practice: Addressing Workplace Harassment with Health Care Workers

Thursday, 19 July 2018: 11:15
Oral Presentation
Elizabeth QUINLAN, University of Saskatchewan, Canada
Workplace harassment is a pressing occupational health and safety problem. No industrial sector is immune, however, health care workplaces in Canada have especially high prevalence rates of repeated, sustained aggressive behaviour toward another within an interpersonal relationship characterized by a power differential. Most solutions to the problem of workplace harassment are top-down strategies (eg workplace policies, legislation) that are easily be interpreted by workers as lacking in credibility and not reflective of genuine attempt to cultivate safety and dignity for workers. In contrast to these conventional strategies, Participatory Theatre is an embodied form of PAR that energizes participants to become competent contesters of dominant discourses, heighten their reflexivity, and generate group solidarities. Empathetic bonds between the participants are fostered by the relational aesthetics of their creative outputs.

The objective of this paper is to report on a Participatory Theatre project addressing workplace harassment with caregivers in the anemic workplaces of Canada’s restructured health care system. The paper will make explicit the challenges, delimmas, and potentials of Participatory Theatre, a dialectic of Brecht’s modernist liberatory tradition and postmodern dramaturgy’s unresolved narratives and multiple stages, actors, and script.

The paper’s analysis is based on data drawn from Participatory Theatre workshops with health care workers and follow-up interviews with the workshop participants. The results provide compelling evidence for the value of involving participants in the co-creation of knowledge that has immediate utility in their workplaces. The paper concludes by advocating for participatory theatre as a ‘bottom up’ approach of intervening in complex social problems, empowering participants to become protagonists in their own lives by recognizing that social problems, such as workplace harassment, can be experienced individually but have structural antecedents.