Theatre, Development and Global Partnership: Critically Reflecting on the Role of UK Theatre for Development Actors

  • Robert Smith

Student thesis: Phd


This thesis explores how and why global Theatre for Development (TfD) partnerships fail to enable greater equity and interconnectedness between Northern and Southern actors. Building global partnerships is at the core of achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). However, Northern development actors dominate these relationships. To establish why this is the case, the thesis brings together literature on global development, postcolonialism and TfD to demonstrate the current limitations on establishing equitable partnerships. The thesis draws on primary data collected through semi-structured interviews with UK and Kenyan TfD actors, autoethnographic reflections on TfD practice and participant observation. The study focuses on three key issues that shape partnerships: funding, knowledge and expertise and temporal and spatial dimensions. First, funding for projects is primarily provided by Northern development actors, framing the terms of partnerships and dictating their form, extent and limits. Second, the knowledge and expertise employed in shaping TfD projects is often seen as lying disproportionately with Northern partners, who are thought to bring global perspectives to such work. Conversely, partners in the South are seen as possessing local knowledge which is deployed primarily to help facilitate and legitimate the interventions of external practitioners. Third, spatial and temporal aspects further impact on partnerships: UK actors are perceived as more mobile and dynamic than their Southern partners, with access to international networks. Southern partners are routinely represented as embedded, statically, in their immediate local contexts. Furthermore, short-term timescales prevent TfD actors from providing the commitment that building more equitable, interconnected partnerships requires. A key finding is that both Northern and Southern actors create and reinforce these ongoing problems in partnerships. However, they are also able to resist and challenge the unequal terms of their relationships. The thesis demonstrates how networks are emerging with the potential for developing more equitable relationships. It reveals the agency of Southern actors to adapt externally funded projects to meet with their own motivations and contexts. The study concludes by suggesting that future TfD partnerships must recognise and facilitate the participative agency of all involved. In so doing, the thesis contributes to debates in the related fields of TfD and applied theatre that are reconsidering the ethical and theoretical frameworks that guide practice, as well as to understandings of global development partnerships more broadly.
Date of Award1 Aug 2019
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • The University of Manchester
SupervisorUma Kothari (Supervisor) & Stephen Scott-Bottoms (Supervisor)


  • Applied theatre
  • Theatre for Development
  • Global development
  • Development partnerships

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