Abstract Panel

Workshop Details

Convenor Dr. Rich Thornton University of Sussex United Kingdom
Co-convenor Ms. Riya Biswas Mantavya India
Panel No : W3
Title : Exploring (neoliberal) leadership through the body: a participatory theatre workshop
Sponsoring commission(s) :
Anthropology and Education
Anthropology of Tourism
Short Abstract : The workshop uses tools from Theatre of the Oppressed to question definitions of leadership in (education) international development in India. It draws on ethnographic research on how chasing individual leadership causes anxiety and the reproduction of social inequality in Indian education NGOs. By making stories with the body, we access subconscious definitions of ‘leadership’ and explore how these conceptions relate to self-development, entrepreneurialism, individualism, neoliberalism – and the ‘enterprise of oneself’. No acting experience required!
Long Abstract :

How does leadership relate to the neoliberalisation of education? How does leadership link to aspirations of mobility in contemporary India?

This workshop draws on ethnographic research with Delhi-based NGOs who partner with government schools to improve education provision to marginalised communities. My research explores how individuals chase leadership roles as routes to their own self-actualisation and in doing so act in ways that reproduce class-based social hierarchy and therefore hinder social justice. I argue that the neoliberalisation of education in India is narrowing definitions of ‘leadership’ and presenting self-development as a silver-bullet ensuring education for all.

Education NGOs sell the promise that youth can become both modern and ethical subjects by joining the Indian Education Reform Movement. Here, self-development equates with social change. Improving leadership ‘skills’ makes one more employable and more effective at reforming schooling and therefore ‘serving’ the nation. But ‘doing’ leadership is a chimerical practice, and educationalists chase the feelings that come from being followed at the cost of the slower work of changing education systems. ‘Leadership’ itself becomes an object of desire that limits the effectiveness of education initiatives – a relation of cruel optimism.

In response, the workshop allows us to question our own conceptions of ‘leadership’ and explore how they relate to self-development, entrepreneurialism, individualism, and neoliberalism – and the ‘enterprise of oneself’.

We use Augusto Boal’s Image Theatre (Theatre of the Oppressed) to provoke participants to explore their definitions of leadership. The exercises are staggered in intensity to allow non-actors to feel comfortable moving in the space – and are scaffolded with verbal discussions to help participants connect the images they produce to intellectual conceptions. The process affords a unique way for researchers and educationalists to better understand hard-to-reach base conceptions of ‘leadership’ that structure their lifeworld.