Academic journal article Austrian Journal of South - East Asian Studies

Participatory Theater, Is It Really? A Critical Examination of Practices in Timor-Leste

Academic journal article Austrian Journal of South - East Asian Studies

Participatory Theater, Is It Really? A Critical Examination of Practices in Timor-Leste

Article excerpt

Dance, music, and oral narratives are an important and vibrant part of cultural practice and heritage in Timor-Leste. But while Timorese people have used such creative methods and processes during rituals, celebrations, and their fight for independence, today arts and artistic expression become an increasingly popular strategy in development cooperation. Especially different forms of so-called participatory theater with origins in development cooperation, arts, and social movements, present themselves as innovative, participatory, and well applicable in terms of capacity building and stimulating positive social transformation. Based on the author's experience and observations, this article critically examines the alliance between various stakeholders in Timor-Leste engaging with the fact that the current scene of participatory theater can hardly be seen as an independent grassroots or even social movement, rather than an initiated top-down process by donors with specific agendas.

Keywords: Development Cooperation; Empowerment; Participatory Theater; Social Change; Timor- Leste

Tanz, Musik und mündliche Erzählungen sind ein wichtiger und dynamischer Teil der kulturellen Praxis und des kulturellen Erbes in Osttimor. Während Timoreslnnen solche kreativen Methoden und Prozesse insbesondere in Ritualen, Feierlichkeiten und ihrem Unabhängigkeitskampf nutz(t)en, sind Kunst und künstlerische Ausdrucksformen heute eine zunehmend populäre Strategie in der Entwick- lungszusammenarbeit geworden. Insbesondere unterschiedliche Formen des sogenannten partizipa- tiven Theaters mit Ursprüngen in der Entwicklungszusammenarbeit, der Kunst und sozialen Bewe- gungen präsentieren sich als innovativ, inklusiv und gut anwendbar in Bezug auf capacity building und Stimulierung positiver sozialer Transformation. Aufbauend auf Erfahrungen und Beobachtungen der Autorin untersucht dieser Artikel die Allianz zwischen unterschiedlichen Stakeholdern in Ostti- mor vor dem Hintergrund, dass die derzeitige Szene des partizipativen Theaters kaum als unabhän- gige Grassroots- oder gar soziale Bewegung angesehen werden kann, sondern eher als ein von oben initiierter Prozess von Geberinstitutionen mit spezifischen Vorstellungen.

Schlagworte: Entwicklungszusammenarbeit; Empowerment; partizipatives Theater; sozialer Wan- del; Osttimor


Development projects and practitioners all around the world claim to use arts as participatory tool to engage people and communities in processes of creation and recreation to transform life and societies as well as strengthen peace and develop- ment (Sloman, 2011, p. l). This is also the case in Timor-Leste - the youngest nation in South-East Asia with a long history of violence, conflict, and deprivation of basic rights and needs (Commission for Reception, Truth and Reconciliation in Timor-Leste [CAVR], 2005). Celebrating the 10th anniversary of independence last year, its sec- ond quite peaceful elections, and the withdrawal of the UN after a decade of al- most ongoing presence, Timor-Leste is still struggling with coming to terms with its past. People and communities are divided and traumatized and while a small middle class is slowly emerging, the majority of people hardly benefit from the country's oil wealth and emerging economy - especially in rural areas (Scharinger, 2012).

As such, Timor-Leste seems to be a highly attractive field for a variety of develop- ment agencies and organizations and while some agencies focus on capacity building of high-level-ministries, others engage with local communities trying to stimulate positive social change in areas like peace, health, or women's empowerment. In the face of widespread illiteracy, difficult access to remote areas, widespread fragmenta- tion, and ongoing conflicts and violence, more and more organizations adopt theater activities to spread their message and acknowledge arts' positive contribution to healing, reconciliation, and identity-building (Epskamp, 1984, p. …

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