“Now’s The Time”: Improvisation-based Pedagogies and the Creation of Coevalness

  • David Scott Ross Independent scholar
Keywords: anthropology, coevalness, communitas, education, improvisation


The term “performance” used to describe learning outcomes in educational settings has little of the richness ascribed by anthropologists. This paper adopts a dynamic sense of performance as shared time, theorized by Johannes Fabian as coevalness and Victor Turner as communitas, to problematize student engagement with pre-structured curricular materials. It contrasts it with alternative participatory frameworks utilizing improvisation. I describe core features of jazz interaction to illustrate how collaborative, context-dependent processes that constitute improvisation may be synthesized into a pedagogical approach; one that enhances student communicative abilities, fosters critical thinking and negotiation skills, and promotes engagement by cultivating temporal awareness. I present Dorothy Heathcote’s “Mantle of the Expert” and “Process Drama” as curricular approaches that employ improvisation and I reflect on how the pedagogical ends they achieve are consonant with the aims of critical pedagogy.



Aronowitz, S. & Giroux, H. A. (1985). Education under siege: The conservative, liberal and radical debate over schooling. South Hadley, MA: Bergin and Garvey Publishers, Inc.

Bateson, M. C. (1990). Composing a life. New York: Plume.

Bateson, M. C. (1994). Peripheral visions: Learning along the way. New York: Harper Collins.

Belgrad, D. (1998). The Culture of spontaneity: Improvisation and the arts in post-war America. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press.

Bergson, H. (2005/1907). Creative evolution. New York: Barnes and Nobles Publishing, Inc.

Borgo, D. (2002) Negotiating freedom: Values and practices in contemporary improvised music. Black Music Research Journal, 22(2), 165-188.

Bruner, E. (1993). Epilogue: Creative persona and the problem of authenticity. In S. Lavie, K. Narayan, & R. Rosaldo (Eds.), Creativity/Anthropology. Ithaca: Cornell University Press.

Conquergood, D. (1989). Poetics, play, process, and power: The performative turn in anthropology. Text and Performance Quarterly, 1, 82-95.

Conquergood, D. (1991). Rethinking ethnography: Towards a critical cultural politics. Communication Monographs, 58, 179-194.

Conquergood, D. (1992). Ethnography, rhetoric, and performance. Quarterly Journal of Speech, 78, 80-123.

Crease, R. P. (1994). The improvisational problem. Man and World, 27, 181-193.

Fabian, J., 1983. Time and the Other: How anthropology makes its object. New York: Columbia University Press.

Fabian, J. (1990). Power and performance: Ethnographic explorations through proverbial wisdom and theatre in Shaba, Zaire. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press.

Freire, P. (1993/1970) Pedagogy of the oppressed. New York: The Continuum Publishing Company.

Frost, A. & Yarrow, R. (2007). Improvisation in drama (2nd ed.). London: Palgrave Macmillan.

Garoian, C. R. (1999) Performing pedagogy: Toward an art of politics. Albany, New York: State University of New York Press.

Geertz, C. (1988). Works and lives: The anthropologist as author. Stanford: Stanford University Press.

Humphreys, M., Brown, A.D., & Hatch M.J. (2003). Is ethnography jazz?, Organization, 10(5), 5-31.

Ingold, T. (1986). Evolution and social life. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Ingold, T. & Hallam, E. (Eds.) (2007). Creativity and cultural improvisation. Berg Press: Oxford.

Johnson, L. & O’Neill, C. (2001). Dorothy Heathcote: Collected writings on education and drama. Evanston, IL: Northwestern University Press.

Kao, S. & O’Neill, C. (1998). Words into worlds: Learning a second language through process drama. Westport and Stamford, CT: Ablex Publishing Corp.

Lave, J. & Wenger, E. (1991). Situated learning: Legitimate peripheral participation. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Malinowski, B. (2002/1922). Argonauts of the Western Pacific: An account of native enterprise and adventure in the archipelagos of Melanesian New Guinea. London: Routledge.

Ong, W. J. (1969). World as view and world as event. American Anthropologist, New Series, 71(4), 634-647.

Ong, W. J. (2000/1988). Orality and literacy. London: Routledge.

Pineau, E. L. (1994). Teaching is performance: Reconceptualizing a problematic metaphor. American Educational Research Journal, 31(1), 3-25.

Rose, T. (1994). Black noise: Rap music and black culture in contemporary America. Hanover, NH: Wesleyan University Press.

Small, C. (1995). Musicking: A ritual in social space. A lecture at the University of Melbourne June 6, 1995. Retrieved December 28, 2006, from http://www.musekids.org/musicking.html

Thomson, S. (2007). The pedagogical imperative of musical improvisation. Critical Studies in Improvisation/Études Critiques en Improvisation, 3(2). Retrieved September 10, 2013, from http://www.criticalimprov.com/article/view/353/643

Turner, E. (2004). Rites of Communitas. In F.A. Salamone (Ed.), Encyclopedia of religious rites, rituals and festivals. London: Routledge.

Turner, V. (1979). Frame, flow and reflection: Ritual and drama as public liminality, Japanese Journal of Religious Studies, 6(4). Retrieved September 15, 2008, from http://nirc.nanzan-u.ac.jp/nfile/2195

Peer Reviewed Articles