Letter to editor
Shifting to Critical Medical Humanities With the Theatre of the Oppressed


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Publication Details
Author list: Goyal, Manoj; Bansal, Monika
Publisher: Association of American Medical Colleges
Publication year: 2021
Journal: Academic Medicine
Volume number: 96
Issue number: 8
Start page: 1076
End page: 1076
Number of pages: 1
ISSN: 1040-2446
Web of Science ID: 000679950500002
PubMed ID:
Scopus ID: 85111554770


We read the letter, “Beyond Sparking Joy: A Call for a Critical Medical Humanities,” 1 with substantial interest and satisfaction. The authors underscore how health inequities and oppression contribute to negative health outcomes. They make an appeal for shifting to “critical medical humanities” programs.

As Bleakley 2 notes, “medical culture needs to [develop from] control to embrace democracy,” and, citing Martha Nussbaum, argues for paralleling authentic democratic participation with “adult play.” We agree and maintain that medical educators should tap the potential of the performing arts and interactive theater as humanities tools, such as the Theatre of the Oppressed (TO), 3 to democratize the process of medical education. TO—devised by the Brazilian theater artist Augusto Boal—is a unique form of participatory theater based on the landmark work of the educationist Paulo Freire, Pedagogy of the Oppressed4 which advocates participatory and emancipatory education.

TO encompasses several games and activities, such as image theater, invisible theater, and Forum Theatre, in which the participants work with their bodies. 3 TO fosters democratic and cooperative interaction among community participants, circumventing various forms and levels of oppression originating from hierarchical structures. For instance, image theater is played in silence, overcoming hierarchy due to language, thus transforming the space into a democratic one where people talk to each other—through images—as equals. In Forum Theatre, an unfinished story of oppression is enacted in front of the spectators, identifying at least one oppressor and one oppressed. The spectators can participate in the theater and become “spect-actors” by replacing the oppressed and attempting to change the outcome of the play, circumventing another notion that theater is owned only by professionals. Reflection is central to the experience of TO games and exercises. Reflection leads to action, action leads to change, and thus participants have the potential of becoming change agents.

TO has been used as an effective tool in diverse fields, including in medical education to hone attributes important in medicine. 5 TO has been suggested as a teaching–learning strategy for disability competencies in the foundation course of medical education by the Medical Council of India (which is now the National Medical Commission for the Regulation of Medical Education in India 6).

Hence, we advocate that medical students be exposed to TO workshops, or longitudinal programs encompassing various forms of TO, to help foster the shift to critical medical humanities.


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Last updated on 2021-07-09 at 15:31