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Power, negotiations and creating work of the collective imagination: Using Vygotskian concepts and activity theory for understanding young people’s drama learning. Dr Sue Davis, CQUniversity Australia IDIERI 2012. I want to sing opera .

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idieri 2012

Power, negotiations and creating work of the collective imagination: Using Vygotskian concepts and activity theory for understanding young people’s drama learning. Dr Sue Davis, CQUniversity Australia



I want to sing opera

I love to sing and dance but I’ll have a got at anything creative

I want to create innovative new work with my students and keep my boss happy!

I want to make funny, subversive video clips

how do we get everyone on board
How do we get everyone on board?

What is co-artistry?How do we create collective work of the imagination that meets the goals of the group?

project principles
Project principles
  • INCLUSION: Young people and teacher-artists will be included in every phase of the process. Project design needs to be mindful and aware of the potential for unequal power relationships inherent in the development of an arts experience such as GBD. To truly promote agency, young people and teacher-artists must be creative agents engaged in determining the project design, making creative content decisions. The role and relationship of the artist and teacher-artist will be clearly established.CO-ARTISTRY: There is a commitment to providing the time and space for co-artistry to occur in all interactions (student/teacher-artist, teacher-artist/artist, artist/student). Dialogue will continue throughout the process from early development right through to performance product and hopefully beyond.
co artist role in syllabus
Co-artist role in syllabus
  • Function as a co-artist with students
  • Recognise each student as a developing or emerging artist in drama and yourself as artistic facilitator or teacher-artist.
  • Intervene in students’ work if necessary to deepen and enrich the work artistically and dramatically.
  • Encourage a climate of reflection and critique that challenges students to raise personal and group standards in drama work.
  • Use the teacher-in-role convention when appropriate.
  • Extend your own artistic practice and theoretical understanding by professional reading, participating in professional development activities, directing, playwriting, designing, performing, producing and/or attending theatre. (Queensland Senior Drama Syllabus, 2007, p 17)


“It is the [teacher’s] function not only to initiate aesthetic activity but also to enter it directly as creative agent, to develop it and deepen it” (Abbs in McLean, 1996, p. 52).

This personalised experience occurs in a highly complex relationship, oscillating between teacher/student as initiator and controller of form, and student/teacher as controller of ideas. (McLean, 1996, p. 14)

co artistry
  • “… dialogical frameworks for learning which places interactions between learners, teachers and artists at the heart of learning, and which offers each participant ownership in the learning process, which itself is conceived of as a creative one”(Craft, 2005,p 143).

Activity Theory – Vygotsky, Luria & Leontiev, Cole, Engestrom

Activity – the basic unit for analysis

Mediation triangle – Subject, Object, Tool

Joint activity – Rules, Community, Division of Labour

Tools, signs

& artefacts




Roles/Division of labour



  • Workshop – week 2
  • Group in circle. Check in – initial thoughts about characters & their special features
  • Circle warm up – 1,2,3 (1 = walk around one way, 2 = run the other, 3 = movement selected by the group)
  • In pairs – 1,2, 3
  • Columbian hypnosis
  • Potter and clay – one person shapes the other in response to given words
    • (Freak, spectacle, twisted, mystery)
3 rd generation activity theory chat
3rd generation activity theory (CHAT)
  • Figure: Two interacting activity systems (Engeström, 2001, p. 136)

I want to have a good time with friends

I want to do well to get good grades at school

We work together to create quality creative performance in response to the creative challenge


Potential Outcome – learning about drama, theatre performance texts

Tools & signsBodies, music, pre-texts, online spaces & performance texts

Potentially shared outcome – polished performance product

Potential outcome – identity formation – self as creative agent, future self

Object – drama & performance concepts, importance of water

Participants – students, teachers, artists, researcher, coordinator


Roles/Division of labour – teachers as directors, student co-devisers (unequal status), artist support and design

Rules – co-artistry, group devising, rehearsal protocol

Community – school group, cluster, production team

Potential Outcome – social engagement and working with others


Tools, signs & artefacts

Contradiction or structural tension

Regarding concept for the outcome

Potentially shared outcome



Roles/Division of labour



mid way through process
Mid-way through process

Agency and ownership “This is our show and we are building it together”

Contradiction – lack of connection with idea of the work (Bundy) and degree of student input


Power – the ability to influence the behaviour of others – with or without resistance

It can constrain and enable

Power is everywhere, everyday, is constituted through and emerges from human activity

Operations of power and authority emerge from the interactions, use of cultural tools & mediational means


Authoritative a position is assumed which generally allows for no dialogue, feedback or change. These kinds of positions are often assumed in religious, political and educational institutions and

Internally persuasive discourse encourages dialogue between agents, allows for responses, exchange and change in what is said.(Wertsch 1998, drawing on Bakhtin)

p ower relations assuming and conceding power
Power relations - assuming and conceding power
  • Students happy to concede power those with more artistic expertise, experience and authority (trust)
  • Respect for the virtuoso
  • Delayed gratification or exercising power, in belief that the outcome will be worthwhile
types of interactions
Types of interactions

Basic level


Making offers








  • Make offers
  • Accept
  • Reject
negotiating collective creation
Negotiating collective creation

Negotiating and re-negotiating shared group object and outcome

Connecting to the idea of the work – Activating personal conceptual connection

Dialogic processes - physicalising experiences & verbal discussion – micro level interactions

Collaborative dialogue to scaffold feedback/evaluation processes and internalisation of learning


Individual subject activity within communal activity

Tools, signs & artefacts


Subject Identity

Personal goal (lead activity)

Varying degree of buy in to the Communal goal

Personal outcome

Collective outcome and products

Reject or accept




Stop, resist, block, adapt, reinforce, extend

Roles/Division of labour



Trust and dynamic power relations realised through internally persuasive dialogue and ongoing interactions

significant learnings
Significant learnings
  • Co-artistry involves ongoing negotiations of power and requires regular space for dialogue and two way interactions
  • The importance of participants connecting with the idea of the work and building shared imaginative vision
  • Authoritarian exercising of power – little room for two-way listening, dialogue and negotiations
  • Operations of power include positive exercising and concession of power, trust and exchange
  • Micro-level interactions are important and worthy of analysis and explicit discussion
  • Value of socio-cultural theory and activity theory for framing drama education research.