Happening in Education – Theoretical Issues

by Martin Blaszk (Author)
©2017 Monographs 168 Pages
Series: Gdańsk Studies in Language, Volume 13


The book explores possibilities for happening in education. It outlines characteristics for happening which are viewed in relation to educational discourses to determine how learners and teachers might be involved. In connection with this, the author considers critical pedagogy, teaching as a liminal practice, creative pedagogy and multiple intelligences. The book also provides details of a participatory research strategy, based upon bricolage and the rhizome, implemented for an inquiry into happening and EFL teaching in a Polish school. The author suggests there may be resistance to the use of happening in schools due to the dominance of transmission-based teaching and unfavourable attitudes towards creativity.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author(s)/editor(s)
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Acknowledgements
  • Contents
  • List of illustrations
  • Introduction
  • 0.1. Happening and education
  • 0.2. Performance art and devising
  • 0.3. Outline of chapters
  • 1. The contemporary world, education, schooling and happening
  • 1.1. The contemporary world
  • 1.2. Education, schooling and the world at large
  • 1.3. The demands on education and schooling
  • 1.4. Alternatives in education
  • 1.5. Happening
  • 1.6. Concluding remarks
  • 2. A definition for happening
  • 2.1. Happening as visual art, happening as theatre
  • 2.1.1. The efficacy theatres of Grotowski and Boal in relation to happening
  • 2.2. The structure of happening, play and a family resemblance
  • 2.2.1. The structure of happening
  • 2.2.2. Happening and play
  • 2.2.3. A family resemblance
  • 2.3. A set of characteristics for happening and aesthetic-critical possibilities
  • 2.3.1. Characteristics
  • 2.3.2. Aesthetic-critical possibilities
  • 2.4. The place and space of happening and the limen
  • 2.4.1. The place and space of happening
  • 2.4.2. The limen and happening
  • 2.5. Concluding remarks
  • 3. On the threshold – happening into education
  • 3.1. Threshold and border
  • 3.1.1. Performative democracy
  • 3.1.2. Critical pedagogy
  • 3.2. Indeterminate and complex
  • 3.2.1. Contact with “the other”
  • 3.2.2. Relations with “the outsider”
  • 3.2.3. Personalism and semiotics
  • 3.2.4. Happening and objectification
  • 3.3. The limen and the liminal servant
  • 3.3.1. The limen in school
  • 3.3.2. The teacher as a liminal servant
  • 3.4. Concluding remarks
  • 4. Happening into education
  • 4.1. Happening in relation to drama pedagogy
  • 4.2. Happening – engagement and creativity
  • 4.2.1. Engagement with knowledge
  • 4.2.2. Creativity and school
  • 4.3. Happening in early education
  • 4.4. A form of happening in secondary education – performance art pedagogy
  • 4.5. Concluding remarks
  • 5. A research strategy for happening in education
  • 5.1. The aim of the research into happening
  • 5.2. The choice of research strategy
  • 5.2.1. Ethnodrama
  • 5.2.2. Action research
  • 5.2.3. Bricolage as a research strategy
  • 5.3. Research methods and techniques
  • 5.3.1. A procedure called POET
  • 5.3.2. Research techniques
  • 5.4. The form, place and duration of the main study
  • 5.5. Concluding remarks
  • Conclusion
  • References
  • Author Index
  • Subject Index

| 11 →

List of illustrations

Figure 1: An aesthetic-critical grid for happening

Figure 2: POET being threaded through different conceptual maps

Figure 3: A rhizome-tumbleweed model

All illustrations by the author.

| 13 →


Why happening and why education? A simple answer to these questions is that I have been involved in both areas for over twenty years as a practitioner, and so it is perhaps inevitable that they should form the centre of interest for a research project. Indeed, my initial training is as a visual artist (although not in performance studies), while my involvement in teaching and education came a little later, primarily as a means to an end; I wanted to travel, especially to Poland, so taking up English teaching as a “second” profession seemed the ideal way for me to move around, earn a living and also continue to pursue and develop an art practice.

These are not the only reasons, however. Being involved in both areas almost simultaneously, I could notice how one fed into the other, as a result of which, over the years, I became increasingly interested in how they affected one another. In addition to this, I was fortunate enough to start my teaching career proper, and this, I must repeat, is a career in teaching English abroad, and mostly, as has turned out in Poland, in an institution and at a time when experimentation and risk-taking were very much encouraged and supported. Therefore, working at the then English Language Centre at the University of Gdańsk, which was supported and part-funded by the British Council, allowed me to start my teaching career with a group of professionals and in a place where the performative aspects of teaching English were as encouraged in their formation and exploration as were the formal aspects of teaching English as a foreign language. This meant that teaching the English language was as much about how it was taught as the language itself. Neither should this come as any great surprise, because the British tradition of teaching English as a foreign language was and is based on a humanistic tradition that takes into account the social and psychological as much the linguistic. It is also eclectic in nature, not adhering to one overriding method or approach but rather trying to find connections between those that are available, first and foremost to satisfy the needs of the learners rather than to pursue a particular pedagogical agenda. This has meant that throughout my career as a teacher, and then later a teacher trainer, I have constantly been engaged with people involved in learning: negotiating and facilitating that process. It has also meant an awareness that the factors which make up and inform the teaching process go beyond simply imparting knowledge about a particular subject area. ← 13 | 14 →

0.1. Happening and education

That happening can be linked to education in the first place should come as no surprise. Neither should my attempts to find a place for it within education. One of its main proponents, Allan Kaprow, promoted such a link. For him, it was one of the ways in which he might lead “a philosophical inquiry into the given natural/or social ‘forms’ of common experience” (Kelly 2003: xvii), while the publication of a number of articles on this point, The Education of the Un-Artist, Parts I, II, and III (Kelly 2003: 97–126; 130–147), were meant to provide guidance. In addition to this, many of the performance practices that have been described as leading up to and away from happening in terms of a chronological history (Goldberg 1990), have had educational connections, or at least aspirations. Therefore, Dada, the Italian and Russian Futurists and Bauhaus, as well as contemporary performance art, might be said to have had, and have, in one way or another, an educational purpose: be it in the fields of the aesthetic, the social and/or the political.

Additionally, trying to locate this type of expression, which might be termed ludic and contestational, within education is nothing new. My own attempt to find a place for it is perhaps not that far removed from the deliberations of the town officials in Britain 500 years ago, when they wanted to find a way to utilize performance practices of the time, clerical, but also ludic, for purposes that would be beneficial to the population as a whole. As Clopper (2001: 159) writes, “they were expected to entertain citizens […] and they were expected to provide a moral example”, but overall, “the plays [performative practices – MB] were intended to educate and confirm laymen in their religion”.

But what exactly are the educational discourses that happening might be said to be linked to? And what are the links? The answer, it seems to me, stems in part from its history, which is apparent even from the very brief description I have given above: the aesthetic, social, and political, open up a broad area of inquiry that connect with the fundamental concerns of happening, translate into its characteristics, and can be seen to connect with various discourses in education at the present time. A summary glance over some of the characteristics and strategies open to happening as a performative practice would appear to uphold this. For example, the characteristic that calls for an abolishment of borders between the arts, the interdisciplinary nature of happening, places it on an aesthetic plane. Additionally, so does the possibility for nonmatrixed presentations and compartmentalization, so that people do not have to take on roles, or actually present actions or events that are related in any way, being involved in sequences that encompass dream-like rather than conscious thinking (Schechner 1982: 122–123). ← 14 | 15 → In this challenge to existing order and the possibilities for a series of narratives rather than one leading narrative, there is also a critical element, as well as a relation to postmodern discourse. In addition to this, these aesthetic-critical concerns cum characteristics, might also be seen to correspond to a spectrum of educational discourses. The nonmatrixed and interdisciplinary character of happening can be equated to the independence and freedom from limitations that Szmidt (2007: 51) refers to with regard to a pedagogy of creativity, or the autonomy and freedom that Sajdak (2008: 55) proposes for creative education. It can also be related to the continuous and reciprocal process Nęcka (1994: 21) writes about for creativity, where there is not one particular, nor imposed form or procedure, and where structure is revealed by the movement through an interaction of the person with materials and events in the steady evolvement of an idea and the aim to be achieved. And these forms of involvement also have a political undercurrent regarding the challenge they offer to both accepted order and control.

In addition to this, the social strand of happening is represented by the emphasis that is placed upon participation, where, at its weakest, the audience are responsible for creating meaning (Goldberg 1990: 130), or at its strongest, the audience takes part along with the happeners in the enactment of the happening (Pawłowski 1982: 74–77). This, in turn, allows for further strategies for performance that Schechner (1982: 120–121) outlines: relational involvement, in that no-one – neither happeners nor audience – have a privileged position with regard to ideas and decisions; and multicentrism, where those taking part can present different viewpoints. And again, as with the aesthetic dimension, there are currents inherent in these strategies that connect with the political regarding their critical-emancipatory possibilities. This social element also shows itself in another proposed characteristic for happening: that it should be anything but the arts (Kaprow 1994: 706), that it should, in fact, be of real life (Vostell cited in Heddon and Milling 2006: 66); that is, any one of the myriad of activities and involvements that people engage in on a day to day basis (Kaprow 2003: 64–65). In terms of educational discourses, the creation of a situation where people can come together and express different ideas occurs in Garoian’s (1999: 40–43) proposition of a liminal space for performance art pedagogy, as well as in Witkowski’s (2000: 15) consideration of border pedagogy, where there is an intensive relation with the other person. Moreover, the disparate forms this relation can take and the fact that different points of view are represented recall Rutkowiak’s (1997: 88–98) ideas concerning “the outsider”, in which four possibilities are outlined: we can try to get to know the other person, see ourselves more clearly in comparison to them, try not to lose sight of who that other person actually is, ← 15 | 16 → and/or, where the other person is important in our self-education. This and the positioning of happening in real life rather than the arts connect with Dewey’s call to find inspiration in the everyday. And this is not only in his writing about the arts (Dewey 1958), which was a major inspiration for Kaprow,1 but also his project for education (Dewey 1956, 1966), in which school and society are inextricably entwined. This is a project, moreover, that has been continued into the present through the likes of Bruner (1999) and his work around cultural psychology, and in Poland, through the research of Klus-Stańska (2002).

The mention of Dewey here also offers a link between the social and the political. For the likes of Melosik (2007: 311–316), Dewey’s pragmatism is an attempt to resolve the problem between individual development and social integration that lies at the heart of compulsory education in liberal-capitalist societies. For Szudlarek (2009: 65) and the critical pedagogy that he writes about, Dewey offers a vision that joins the pedagogical and the political, providing a mechanism which enables the formation of a truly democratic society. This, in turn, is echoed in Matynia’s (2009) proposal for performative democracy, where at a grassroots level, people come together and reach consensus on matters that are significant for them, and on from that, are able to put those ideas into action and for (significant) change.


ISBN (Hardcover)
Publication date
2019 (February)
Creativity Critical pedagogy Liminal practice Participatory research Bricolage Compulsory schooling
Frankfurt am Main, Bern, Berlin, Bruxelles, New York, Oxford, Warszawa, Wien, 2017. 168 p., 2 b/w ill.

Biographical notes

Martin Blaszk (Author)

Martin Blaszk holds a doctorate in Pedagogy from the University of Gdańsk (Poland), where he is employed at the Institute of English and American Studies. His research interests include happening, creativity in education and teacher education.


Title: Happening in Education – Theoretical Issues
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168 pages