Stories from the field

Nikhil Kumar: using performance as an organisational research method

Nikhil [Tip: hold Ctrl and click a link to open it in a new tab. (Hide tip)] , a researcher on the project team, is a member of a troop of amateur actors who perform in spaces such as university campus grounds to educate people about critical issues in society, such as gender inequalities and violence against women.

A street play

As a performer in the group he studied, Nikhil’s research was deeply embodied. He discusses here how intersubjective the performance is with the audience, and why that is necessary:

An audience call is a crucial element during a street play performance. It helps gather the audience in order to witness the live performance. Without a live audience, the performance serves no purpose, since the agenda is to spread awareness through the medium of the play. Hence, the performers – with the help of music, a jingle and dancing – not only attract the audience but it also helps them to strengthen their connection with their play, the platform i.e., street play and the roles that they play. It helps them to connect with the characters that they portray in the play and empower them to internalize the message – quoting one the street play actors, ‘If they can’t feel it, they can't express it.’

Attracting an audience and gaining their attention is, following Nikhil’s understanding, not enough to translate the important messages that the performers are trying to get across. Audience participation is key. Hence, as the following short video extract provided by Nikhil shows, the performers’ call to the audience is a deeply embodied dance, aiming to draw in bystanders into the performance itself.


Watch the film and make your own notes in response to the following questions:

  • How do performance methods affect actors and audiences emotionally? You should include a discussion of the importance insider/outsider transitions for actors and researchers.
  • How were these methods used in the Indian context? What advantages are associated with their use?
  • Why is this method important in terms of voice, empowerment and changing organisations and societies?
  • What embodiments do you see in the video performed by the actors and the audience? How would you record these as part of the research?
Download this video clip.Video player: Street play
Street play
Interactive feature not available in single page view (see it in standard view).

We recommend that you keep notes of your answers to these questions so you can return to them during the course.

To use this interactive functionality a free OU account is required. Sign in or register.
Interactive feature not available in single page view (see it in standard view).

Recommended reading

Bell, E. and Vachhani, S. (2019) ‘Relational encounters and vital materiality in the practice of craft work’, Organization Studies (early access). Available at: 62143/ (accessed 1 October 2019).

Pink, S., Hubbard, P., O’Neill, M. and Radley, A. (2010) ‘Walking across disciplines: from ethnography to arts practice’, Visual Studies, 25(1): 1–7. Available at: permalink/ f/ gvehrt/ TN_informaworld_s10_1080_14725861003606670 (accessed 1 October 2019).

Thanem, T. and Knights, D. (2019) Embodied Research Methods, London: Sage.