Between Spaces and Conversations: An Action Research Project With Young People

In 2013 -2014, Nirantar conducted a landscape analysis of early and child marriage in India. The study opened up several questions for us and we felt that we need to engage more with young people to understand from them how they experience and makes sense of their experiences.

We thus embarked on an action research to help us better understand how to engage with the root causes of early and child marriage with a youth-centric and empowering approach, through action, evaluation and critical reflection.

Often, the process of research can be extractive, where researchers go ‘into the field’, ask specific questions, and based on the answers, create a certain analysis of the situation ‘out there’.

Knowledge emerging from this process reproduces a kind of ‘us and them’ divide, which as feminist researchers, we have always tried to challenge and is an ongoing process.

In development sector, we have seen Theatre being used in different ways, as a means of bringing people together, as a way of communication, as a way of challenging the status quo and asking critical questions to the society.  It is for the first time that Nirantar is exploring theatre as an action research methodology in collaboration with Akshay Khanna and Effie Makepeace, who have been working on developing theatre as a research methodology.

The action component of the research project involves the use of community theatre to enable young people to reflect on their lived realities, create a collective space for understanding it, and to create spaces for dialogue within the community.

Theatre as a research methodology has helped us so far in breaking the hierarchy of words and delving deeper in the embodied experiences of young people around the issues of sexuality, gender and caste in innovative ways.

We also hope to explore ‘forum theatre’* as means of sharing the knowledge created with the larger community to help us understand the lived realities of young people in a better way.

Over the past year, Effie and Akshay have trained and mentored action research team at Nirantar and our field-level partner organizations in different theatre techniques and research methods. To understand more about the methodology, we are today in conversation with Effie Makepeace, a community theatre practioner, our friend, mentor and advisor to the action research project.

Concept and Interview by: Ipsita Gauri (Early Marriage, Young People and Empowerment team)
Edited by: Shweta Radhakrishnan

*Forum Theatre, drawing from Augusto Baol’s work, is “the crafting and performance of a short play that dramatizes real situations faced by the participants and ends with the protagonist(s) being oppressed. After the first performance, they play or scene is repeated with one crucial difference: the spectators become spect ‘actors’ and can at any point yell ‘stop!’ and take the place of an actor to attempt to transform the outcome.

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