Experiments in the Co-creation of "Theatres" for Social Innovation. A Reading through the Lens of Hannah Arendt

Elisa Bertolotti, Virginia Tassinari


This paper explores how the authors are currently experimenting in bringing philosophical insights into dialogue with their design practices. Specifically, they are analyzing how concepts from Hannah Arendt’s The Human Condition - such as those of “theatres” and “heroes” - have inspired their research within a project called “Welcome to Seraing”. The idea of active citizenship powered by this project has been inspired by the idea of “hero” described by Arendt: i.e. to be an active player in society, discussing together and making decisions about the common sphere, and bringing these decisions into action. By doing so, the actors involved are given the possibility to experience deep satisfaction - “eu-daimonia” (ancient Greek for “happiness”) - which derives from taking one’s own responsibility within society and re-discovering the social character of human nature, according to Aristotle’s definition of man as “zoon politikon” (political animal). This occurs in Greek theatre, where the stories of the “heroes” are enacted and can become an example for the citizens.

In “Welcome to Seraing” these concepts have been used as a conceptual framework for the co-creation, together with the citizens of Seraing in Belgium - of spaces of representation (inspired by Arendt’s idea of Greek theatre) to experiment new forms of participation in the common sphere. The idea is that citizens can experience there what it means to be actively involved in their own neighbourhoods (which for Arendt is the main characteristic of being a “hero”). What is emerging from this project is that the situations we co-created with citizens are currently helping them to re-think their
role within their own community. This paper discusses how Arendt’s ideas of “theatre”, “hero” and “eu-daimonia” can be relevant in order to fully value the political and social implications of the construction of new spaces for the enactment of possible future stories of local “heroes”, active citizens who discover their own happiness (“eu-daimonia”) by fully expressing their social nature

Keywords: politics, active citizenship, theatre, storytelling, design for social innovation, design research, design & philosophy

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