Drama Theory

Drama theory provides a framework for structured thinking and analysis about confrontations: situations shaped by several parties in which there is the potential for conflict or co-operation. Game theory offers a means of modelling confrontations but does so from the basis that the ‘game’ is fixed. By contrast, drama theory takes the game itself (now called the “frame”) to be susceptible to change under the pressure of emotions and rationalisations produced by the players (termed “characters”). Emotions and rationalisations are produced in response to three “dilemmas” that a character may face at a so-called “moment of truth”. Drama theory proposes that characters will tend to change the frame in such a way as to eliminate the dilemmas that they face.

By its very generality DT has enormous potential for development and application.  The ideas can been applied at all and any level from interpersonal relations (e.g. personal counselling) through to international negotiation.  Some of the earliest interest in the emerging work came from the HCI (Human-Computer Interface) community.  The other most obvious field of application is that of international relations, and DT concepts have been taken up there by several researchers (e.g. analysing international conflicts).  However the principal field of work to date has been in the military, though specifically around the management of military-led multi-agency interventions (e.g. peacekeeping).  This has usually involved undertaking analysis to support military decision-making processes.  Later work has involved top level military commanders (e.g. Gen Sir Rupert Smith) who are now part of a network drawing on DT in this sector.  There have been some interesting spin-offs: for example, the playwright David Edgar used drama theory to plot a stage play The Prisoners Dilemma which ran successfully for the RSC in Stratford and London and was the centrepiece of a conference run by the Oxford Research Group.  The other main body of work has been in developing bespoke role-play training for professionals: the implicit ‘strapline’ here has been ‘Improving  Service Relationships’.

Footnote: If you would like to get a flavour of what’s been going on in drama theory since it was first floated take a look at the Dilemmas Galore Forum (http://www.dilemmasgalore.com/forum/index.php)* which was started and led by Nigel Howard  (http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/obituaries/1905492/Nigel-Howard.html) who was the thought-leader in this domain.  For a more recent review see my latest book ‘Acting Strategically with Drama Theory’ https://www.crcpress.com/Acting-Strategically-Using-Drama-Theory/Bryant/9781482245318

 *at present there seems to be a problem accessing the Dilemmas Galore website; I have notified the manager concerned but the resolution of the problem is not in my hands.

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