This thesis is an enquiry into the social and political role, in Australia, of practices that have attracted such labels as ‘community arts’, ‘cultural animation’, ‘cultural action’, or ‘community cultural development’ (CCD). It is often argued that such practices offer an effective means to bring about social and political change for people and communities who participate in them. Looking specifically at theatre-based approaches to CCD in Australia, this thesis examines an alternative hypothesis, namely that such projects and programs can contribute to the continued marginalisation of those who take part in them.
Using a combination of Pierre Bourdieu’s theoretical approach to field analysis, Don Handelman’s analytical framework of special events and Baz Kershaw’s theory of potential efficacy, I carry out an ethnographic and performance-based analysis of a particular project called The Longest Night (TLN), which was devised in collaboration with young people from The Parks, a cluster of suburbs north west of Adelaide, South Australia, and in collaboration between Urban Theatre Projects, a small Sydney-based theatre company with a reputation for doing socially and politically challenging work, young people living in The Parks and local partner organisations, for the 2002 Adelaide Festival.
I find that in some instances participation in CCD projects and programs is an enabling factor, creating change opportunities in cultural, economic and/or political spheres in the lives of those who take part, whilst at other times it is a constraining factor. Participation in CCD projects and programs creates possibilities because the practices are potentially subversive and foster elements of learning and change in some participants. It also creates limitations because CCD practitioners operate within a subfield of social and cultural practices where the mechanisms and structures in place, indirectly, tend to help reproduce legitimised social and cultural values and norms.