The double-edged sword of storytelling

Performative language pedagogy with refugees, asylum seekers and migrants


  • Erika Piazzoli Trinity College Dublin
  • Elif Cullen Istanbul Medeniyet University



Performative language teaching, Ethics, Storytelling, Sorgente, Distancing


This article considers the ethical dimension of performative practice with refugees and migrants, positioning storytelling as a double-edged sword that can either elevate or stigmatise the storyteller. The discussion is inspired by 10 things you need to consider if you are an artist, not of the refugee and asylum seeker community, looking to work with our community, a manifesto written by Cañas, Refugee Survivor and Ex-Detainee (RISE) art director. First, the paper introduces the RISE manifesto and its significance to contemporary practice and research. Second, it discusses relevant literature, looking at the construct of aesthetic distance (Erikson, 2011), safe space as creative space (Hutton, 2008) and aesthetic form as double (Courtney, 1995) in drama. The core of the paper reports the analysis of nine interviews, conducted with professional artists, teachers and practitioners working in the context of forced migration. Data points to the interconnectedness between participants and facilitator, in terms of self-expression, creativity, vulnerability and agency. In this regard, the authors reframe vulnerability as an active, creative, liminal space essential to foster an ethical imagination. This kind of creative vulnerability, key to practitioners’ ethical imagination in performative work, can act as a segue into the symbolic, metaphorical mode of drama.

Author Biographies

Erika Piazzoli, Trinity College Dublin

Erika Piazzoli is an Assistant Professor in Arts Education at Trinity College Dublin, The University of Dublin. Her research interests are drama and second language education, teacher education and embodied research methods. Her book Embodying Language in Action explores embodiment in performative language teaching, learning and research. Erika is the principal investigator of ‘Sorgente: Engaging asylum seekers, refugees and their teachers in performative language pedagogy’ and ‘Lacunae: Embodying the Untranslatable’ projects.

Elif Cullen, Istanbul Medeniyet University

Elif KIR Cullen studied at İstanbul University, the Faculty of Education, after graduating from Teacher Training High school in İstanbul. She completed her M.A. in Foreign Language Teaching at Yıldız Technical University and gained her Ph.D. degree in Applied Linguistics at Ankara University. She started her creative drama training which includes intensive courses related to drama teaching and a drama project at “İstanbul Contemporary Drama Association” in 2010 and became a fully qualified creative drama instructor with passing the Ministry of Education exam in 2020 after her post-doctoral in drama in education at Trinity College, Dublin, the School of Education. Currently, Elif KIR Cullen offers courses at İstanbul Medeniyet University, the School of Educational Sciences, and conducts drama workshops mainly for teachers.


Ardener, S. (1993). Ground rules and social maps for women: An introduction. In S. Ardener (Ed.), Women and space: ground rules and social maps (pp. 1-30). Berg.

Balfour, M., Bundy, P., Burton, B., Dunn, J., & Woodrow, N. (2015). Applied theatre: Resettlement: Drama, refugees and resilience. Bloomsbury Publishing.

Berman, R. A. (2018). Between alienation and identity: Toward a critical theory of refugees. Telos, 2018(183), 145-167.

Best, C., Guhlemann, K., & Guitart, O. A. (2020). The social art of language acquisition: A theatre approach in language learning for migrants and its digitization in the Corona lockdown. Scenario, 14(2), 60-75.

Bolton, G. (1979). Towards a theory of drama in education. Longman.

Bolton, G. (1984). Drama as education: An argument for placing drama at the centre of the curriculum. Longman.

Bora, S. F. (2019). Exploring learners’ perceptions towards collaborative work through drama in foreign language learning: A view from a mandatory Italian high-school curriculum. Scenario, 13(2), 171-186.

Bocconi, S., Kampylis P. G., & Punie, Y. (2012). Innovating learning: Key elements for developing creative classrooms in Europe. JRC Scientific and Policy Reports, European Commission.

Boost Rom, R. (1998). “Safe spaces”: reflections on an educational metaphor. Journal of Curriculum Studies, 30(4), 397-408.

Bullough, E. (1912/2001). Psychical distance as a factor in art and an aesthetic principle. British journal of Psychology, 5(2), 87-118. SophiaOmni Project retrieved from

Butler, J. (2014). Bodily Vulnerability, Coalitions, and Street Politics. Critical Studies, 37.

Cañas, T. (2015). 10 things you need to consider if you are an artist. [accessed December 29yh, 2021]

Campbell, V., & Hogan, Z. (2019). Pandora and the Tiger’s Whisker: stories as a pretext in two adult language learning contexts. NJ, 43(1), 39-50.

Change of Address (n.d.). About.

Courtney, R. (1995). Drama and feeling: An aesthetic theory. Montreal: McGill-Queen's University Press.

Cummings, L. (2016). Empathy as dialogue in theatre and performance. Macmillan.

Dalziel, F., & Piazzoli, E. (2019). “It comes from you”: Agency in adult asylum seekers’ language learning through Process Drama. Language Learning in Higher Education, 9(1), 7-32.

Davies, D., Jindal-Snape, D., Collier, C., & Duigby, R. (2013). Creative learning environments in education—A systematic literature review. Thinking Skills and Creativity, 8, 80-91.

Dunn, J., Bundy, P., & Stinson, M. (2015). Connection and Commitment: Exploring the Generation and Experience of Emotion in a Participatory Drama. International Journal of Education & the Arts, 16(6).

Dunn, J., Bundy, P., & Stinson, M. (2020). Process drama in five international contexts: Considering emotional responses and dramatic structuring. Applied Theatre Research, 8(2), 177-195.

Dunn, J., Bundy, P., Jones, A., Stinson, M., Hassall, L., Penton, J., Lazaroo, N., & Le, L. (2019). Creating Critical Connections through the Arts: Examining the impact of arts-based pedagogies and artist/teacher partnerships on learning and teaching in one Australian secondary school – the Y Connect Report. Griffith Institute for Education Research.

Edmiston, B. (1998). Ethical imagination: Choosing an ethical self in drama. In JD Wilhelm & B. Edmiston (Eds.), Imagining to learn: Inquiry, ethics, and integration through drama (pp. 55-84). Heinemann.

Eriksson, S. (2007). Distance and awareness of fiction: Exploring the concepts. NJ: Drama Australia Journal, 31(1), 5-22.

Eriksson, S. A. (2011). Distancing at close range: making strange devices in Dorothy Heathcote's process drama Teaching Political Awareness Through Drama. RiDE, 16(1), 101-123.

Eriksson, S. (forthcoming, 2022). Distancing as Topos in process drama. In M. McAvoy & P. O’Connor (Eds.), The Routledge Companion to Drama in Education. Routledge. Heinemann Drama.

Gilbert, H. & Nield, S. (2008). Editorial. RiDE, 13(2): 133-136.

Hatton, C. (forthcoming, 2022). Drama as a pedagogy of connection: using Heathcote’s rolling role system to activate the ethical imagination. In M. McAvoy & P. O’Connor (Eds.), The Routledge companion to drama in education. Routledge.

Heathcote, D. & Armstrong Mills, C. (1993). Rolling role and the national curriculum. (Video Tape series, 1-16). Audio Visual Centre, University of Newcastle Upon Tyne.

Hemelryk Donald, S. (2018). Debt, the migrant, and the refugee: Lampedusa on stage. Research in Drama Education: The Journal of Applied Theatre and Performance, 23(2), 193-209.

Hietz, K. (2021). (No) drama with grammar: A case study of a performative approach to teaching English conditional clauses to young adolescent learners. Scenario, 15(1), 128-135.

Hunter, M. A. (2008). Cultivating the art of safe space. RiDE, 13(1), 5-21.

Jankowska, M., & Atlay, M. (2008). Use of creative space in enhancing students’ engagement. Innovations in Education and Teaching International, 45(3), 271-279.

Jeffers, A. (2008). Dirty truth: Personal narrative, victimhood and participatory theatre work with people seeking asylum. RiDE, 13(2), 217-221.

Kenney, M. (2001). Mapping gay LA: The intersection of place and politics. Temple University Press.

Kenny, A. (2018). Voice of Ireland? Children and music within asylum seeker accommodation. Research Studies in Music Education, 40(2), 211-225.

Lamia, M.C. & Krieger, M.J. (2009). The White Knight Syndrome: Rescuing yourself from your need to rescue others. New Harbinger Publications.

Marschall, A. (2018). What can theatre do about the refugee crisis? Enacting commitment and navigating complicity in performative interventions. RiDE, 23(2), 148-166.

Piazzoli, E., & Kennedy, C. (2014). Drama: Threat or opportunity? Managing the ‘dual affect’ in process drama. Scenario, 8(1), 52-68.

Piazzoli, E. (2018). Embodying language in action: The artistry of process drama in second language education. Springer.

Price, T. (2018). Performing crisis: The COBRA committee and the aesthetics of governmental response. RiDE, 23(2), 167-178.

Redmond, M. (2010). Safe space oddity: Revisiting critical pedagogy. Journal of Teaching in Social Work, 30(1), 1-14.

Schewe, M. (2020). Performative in a nutshell. Scenario, 14(1), 103-110.

Smith, A. (2016). Faith Action. Seven tips for starting work with refugees.

Smith, A. (2016b). Creative English: Balancing creative and functional language needs for adult refugees, asylum seekers and migrants. Scenario, 10(1), 3-17.

Thompson, M. J. (2017). Introduction: What is critical theory? In M. J. Thompson (Ed.), The Palgrave Handbook of Critical Theory (pp. 1-14). Palgrave.

van Lier, L. (2007). Action-based teaching, autonomy and identity. Innovation in Language Teaching and Learning, 1(1), 46-65.

White I. & Lorenzi, F. (2016). The development of a model of creative space and its potential for transfer from non-formal to formal education. International Review of Education, 62(6), 771-790.

Wittgenstein, L. (1953/2010). Philosophical investigations. John Wiley & Sons.






Special Issue Articles

Most read articles by the same author(s)