Staging empowerment? An investigation into participation and development in HIV and AIDS theatre projects.
This thesis is an exploration of contemporary practice in the field of theatre for development as HIV and AIDS communication. The thesis explores the theoretical fields of communication for development, entertainment education and empowerment, in an attempt to understand how different approaches to communicating about HIV and AIDS can influence personal and social change, and impact on both personal empowerment and community development. An examination of the literature on using theatre as a means to bring about development leads to the identification of key areas for investigation, including how participation is envisioned and implemented in theatre projects that focus on HIV and AIDS, and how participants are empowered through these processes. My study includes a broad survey of practitioners who use theatre in this way, the results of which inform an examination of three specific case studies. The research data reflects that participation is used as a strategy in different ways in theory-driven interventions that are consciously designed to meet specific goals. While many practitioners highlight participation, this is often in interventions that are guided by the modernisation approach to development, where external organisations attempt to bring about pre-determined change within a beneficiary community. The low levels of participation in essential decision-making processes in these projects mean that these projects preclude some of the elements essential to bringing about empowerment, such as the development of a greater critical consciousness and encouraging community-based problem solving. Such practice cannot bring about substantial long-term changes and empowerment for the project beneficiaries or for society more broadly. My research identifies a need to reconsider HIV and AIDS communication within the context of development, if change is to be brought about. In my concluding chapter, I suggest a number of ways to bring practice closer to the paradigm of meaningful participation as informed by empowerment theory.