The Researcher's Role: Teaching Social Research Methods with Participatory Theater and Role-Playing Techniques

Dr. Alma Pisciotta and Dr. Luciana Taddei


The educational and research program for students launched in 2019 as a participant laboratory for the master’s degree Course in Sociology and Social Research at the University of Calabria aims to teach sociological research methods through theatrical techniques and exercises as tools for social work (Gurvitch, 1956). The program consists of two complementary learning modules executed sequentially by two teachers with different professional backgrounds in order to develop in-depth research skills, both quantitative and qualitative, with an active approach to leading students into effective strategies of interaction for field study. Students come into contact not only with the subject-object of study, but also (and above all) with themselves, thus reducing some of their insecurities and discovering their own limits in terms of prejudices and stereotypes through the use of applied improvisation. In this way, particular attention is paid to the role that the researcher must assume in specific research contexts, working deeply on himself to achieve spontaneity through role-training sessions (Moreno, 1947; 1953).

In practical terms, exercises are used to stimulate sociological imagination and promote concentration: exercises of cooperation and collective strategies, techniques of active participation and construction of the group climate to gain access to the field, exercises for control and analysis, and verbal, paraverbal and non-verbal communication (i.e. how to present yourself in public through video recordings). For example, the Theatre of the Oppressed system (Boal, 1979) shows the relationship between news and newsworthiness and proceeds with their related deconstruction. It also consists of many different ethnomethodological experiments and exercises about conversation analysis: elements of common sense, idioms, constructions, and stereotypes present in speech. This kind of “Theatrical sociology approach” combines sociological, psychological, and pedagogical knowledge with theatrical games that become tools for the investigation of social phenomena in complex contexts. Beyond their diversity, science and art share the ability to discover and create (Nisbet, 1962), and this is what we strive to teach our students.

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