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Conference Theme

When the first IDIERI was launched by Phillip Taylor in 1995, the aspiration was clear:

An institute can become a beacon through which emerging understandings happen, where stereotypical notions can be challenged, where new beginnings occur (Taylor 1996, preface).

Over twenty-six years later, IDIERI marked its 10th conference. Taylor’s hopeful image of the praxeological purpose of IDIERI is enticing, especially as the Covid-19 pandemic has changed our ways of being, knowing, teaching, learning, researching, and communicating. As writer Arundhati Roy (2020) argues, we cannot return to ‘normal’:

Historically, pandemics have forced humans to break with the past and imagine their world anew. This one is no different. It is a portal, a gateway between one world and the next.

Our theme ‘Navigating Mess and Complexity in Uncertain Times: values, practices, methods and impacts’ invited delegates to engage directly with Roy’s rallying call to imagine the world anew.

The notion that we will simply resume previous modes of practice and research seems unlikely, not least as the pandemic has profoundly impacted the young people and adult communities with whom we work. We wanted to use this gathering in July as an important moment to mark the changes in our field.

Our conference theme was not focused solely on the impact of the pandemic. Originally, it was coined in response to the messy complexities of a post-truth (mis)information age, the immediacy, magnitude and uncertainty of the climate crisis as well as the interrelated ways political polarisation has dominated and shaped public discourse. We hoped to provoke contributions that spoke to these macro-narratives by focusing on the rich micro-phenomena of our research sites.

Importantly, we did not seek to frame ‘mess’, ‘complexity’ and ‘uncertainty’ in entirely pejorative terms. On the contrary, we invited delegates to engage with the valuable and productive affordances of ‘mess’, ‘complexity’ and ‘uncertainty’ in practice and research. Delegates were inspired by the following interrelated areas:

Artistic. Messiness, in the context of co-creating and devising drama and theatre, is often a sign of creativity, diversity and dynamism, but how do we work carefully and ethically with participants to navigate a multiplicity of voices, ideas and lived experiences?

Pedagogic. Drama and theatre education, in whatever process or context it is applied, is often based on a co-inquiry around complex moral dilemmas that cannot easily be solved. What structures and forms enable us to make sense of mess and chaos?

Methodological. Messy and complex phenomena are not necessarily obstacles to overcome or neatly explained away by the researcher, but rather important ‘textures’ (Law, 2004, 2) that reflect the ‘multiplicity, indefiniteness, and flux’ (14) of social realities. What epistemologies and methodologies help us dwell within the mess?

Ethical. If there are no simple answers to the pressing questions of our times, what are the ethical implications of this and how does this shape our participatory work? If good/bad or right/wrong are insufficient binaries, what questions do we need to ask? As Kathleen Gallagher asks of global warming, ‘Who's responsible? How am I complicit? Are ‘victim’ or ‘oppressor’ the only available subject positions in this mess of late capitalism, economic injustice, and ‘first world’ greed?’ (2006, 96).

IDIERI 10 sought to provide our research community with a timely opportunity to collectively reimagine the purpose of drama and theatre in formal/informal educational sites and applied contexts.


Gallagher, K. (2006) Pondering ethics, Research in Drama Education: The Journal of Applied Theatre and Performance, 11:1, 96-98, DOI: 10.1080/13569780500437606

Law, J. (2004) After Method: mess in social science research. London: Routledge.

Roy, A. (2020) ‘The pandemic is a portal’, Financial Times, April 3 2020. Available at: ‘The pandemic is a portal’ (Accessed 26 October 2021).

Taylor, P., ed. (1996) Researching drama and arts education: paradigms and possibilities, London: Falmer Press.