Forum Theatre to romote active and reflexive dialogues as a means of emancipation from neoliberal discourses

Silvia Olvera-Hernandez [ ]
University of Leeds
Julia Martin-Ortega [ ]
University of Leeds
George Holmes [ / Twitter: @_georgeholmes ]
University of Leeds

Paula Novo [ ]
Scotland’s Rural College
Azahara Mesa-Jurado [ ]
El Colegio de la Frontera Sur

It has been said that natural resource manage is changing as part of neoliberal policies (Agrawal 2005; Wang et al., 2017). Neoliberal policies emphasize practices and discourses of decentralisation, marketization and commodification within natural resource management (Holmes and Cavanagh, 2016). Due to this, power relations on natural resource management are changing (Agrawal, 2005; Ahlborg and Nightingale, 1994; Harcourt, 2016). These changes that come from policies created by dominant cultures that tend to impose new knowledge in peasant communities (Boelens et al., 2012), might be producing power relations that promote the discrimination and exclusion of some people from environmental decision-making processes (Ratner et al., 2013).
One way to analyse these changes is through the operationalization of the concept of power as discourses and disciplining institutions reproduced by people (Ahlborg and Nightingale, 1994). This approach is usually exercised in neoliberal policies, through the promotion of marketization, commodification and decentralization discourses (Agrawal, 2005; Wang et al., 2017). These discourses are reproduced at community level by some locals who become intermediaries between government and community (Agrawal, 2005; Norton, 2005). They are local people who adopt the neoliberal discourses and shape their values around markets and the environment (Agrawal, 2005). In addition, they have the support of government institutions, situation that strengthens their participation during the decision-making (Ratner et al., 2013; Rocheleau, Thomas-Slayter, and Wangari, 1996; Wang et al., 2017).
The Lacandon rainforest, located in the southeast of Mexico, is an example of these phenomena. In this territory, neoliberal policies have been promoting sustainable production (e.g. exportation of coffee and cacao by local cooperatives) and creating conservation plans based on monetary valuation of the natural resources (e.g. REED+) (Martin-Ortega et al., 2019; Trench et al., 2018). To the well promotion of these projects, government institutions and no-profit organization, were working closely with local agents and local technical agents. The local technical agents were officially working for government agencies in the promotion of conservation and productive projects. These technical agents had a certain level of authority because they were mostly men, with land rights. In addition, they established a network with other technical agents from other communities during the trainings. This situation brought to them the skills to improve their performance during the local decision-making (fieldnotes, 2014-2015.
In the global South, there are some examples similar to the Lacandon rainforest where neoliberal policies are changing the local power relations (Agrawal, 2005; Elmhirst, 2011; Nightingale, 2018). In order to have a just natural resource management in these areas, it is important to develop understanding about how this people with authority that reproduce neoliberal discourses, might be reinforcing power relations that discriminate or exclude some local voices during the decision-making (Edwards, Collins, and Goto, 2016). However, little has been written about tools or methods that can help to understand these changes while also empowering local people to address these issues and make decisions regarding natural resources that reflect their worldviews (Edwards et al., 2016; Rocheleau et al., 1996).

Theatre Forum as a critical performance method that provides alternative means of communication and sharing, it can be particularly relevant in the context of marginalized communities (Edwards et al., 2016). It enables people to identify issues, bring hidden narratives to consciousness and activate dialogues about different solutions and responses (Ackroyd, 2006; Conquergood, 2002). Rather than look for information transformed through dialogue, Forum Theatre proposes the personification of local voices (values and emotions) in their habitual every-day (Hesse-Biber, 2012). The process is orientated to identify and face the power relations, repeating them and opening them to resignification (García López and Velicu and Giacomo D’alisa, 2017)
In general, this method has been used for education, training, improving participation of minorities and for generating public debates (Heras and Tàbara, 2014). However, there is a risk in the use of this method; practitioner might be shaping the processes and responses with their own beliefs or ideas to support specific objectives (Cooke and Kothari, 2001). To avoid this risk, it is important to count with effective practitioners, this means, reflective practitioners promoting reflexive practices (Trevelyan, Crath, and Chambon, 2014). Reflective practitioners need to strive to dig deep onto self in order to bring into consciousness, the habits, instincts, values and learned behaviours that shape their practice (Ackroyd, 2006). Reflexive practice is important as well because it provokes a critical consciousness about power relations. First, it disrupts the illusions of natural authority between practitioner and participants, and second, it works as meta-reflections about power distribution, in this case, in environmental policy (Ackroyd, 2006; Haverkamp, 2017; Trevelyan et al., 2014).
To extend the knowledge base about power relations reproduced by neoliberal discourses that might be allowing discrimination and exclusion of some people from the environmental decision that affect their territories, we propose the use of Forum Theatre, using a reflexive approach. To understand together about power relations, exclusion and discrimination, and transform these in order to make just decisions that truly reflect the local’s worldviews in the natural resource management in their territory.


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