Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Speech Communication

Document Type



Performative pedagogy combines performance methods and theory with critical pedagogy in an effort to carry out the dual project of social critique and transformation. Performance offers an efficacious means of completing this project by privileging students’ historicized bodies, by implementing contingent classroom dialogue, and by exposing students to the value embedded in performance risk. In this study, I apply performative pedagogy to an English as a Second Language (ESL) context in response to its problematic pedagogical history. In particular, I argue that Augusto Boal’s Theatre of the Oppressed practice should be adapted as a method for doing performative ESL pedagogy. Boal’s practice enlists body-focused performance techniques to encourage participants to investigate their oppressions and rehearse solutions to them. I suggest that performative pedagogy is especially salient for adult students in a community-based ESL environment. Adult ESL students typically include a number of immigrants and refugees to the United States whose efforts to learn English have concrete influences on their respective lives. In this project, I constructed a performative pedagogy within two sites inside a community-based ESL school. First, I devised a performance workshop using Boal’s image theatre techniques to instigate analysis of students’ language-based obstacles. I eventually moved to a second site, an intermediate-advanced ESL course, to initiate an explicit performative pedagogy that divided each class meeting into a problem-solving performance section using Boal’s forum theatre and a structural language section using structural language lectures and grammar drills. My fieldwork suggests that forum theatre, in particular, provides ESL students a means of acquiring communicative competence, particularly in the sociolinguistic and referential senses. Forum theatre’s efficacy can be seen in its commitment to students’ lived experiences, its move to address students’ internally-based language obstacles, and its attention to students’ bodies as sites of critique and transformation. The value of using Theatre of the Oppressed in an ESL classroom concerns its capacity to particularize language instruction to the concrete areas of language use that students identify as most salient to their lives by creating unique performance spaces within which students assert their voices.



Document Availability at the Time of Submission

Release the entire work immediately for access worldwide.

Committee Chair

Michael S. Bowman