Date Approved


Graduate Degree Type


Degree Name

Social Innovation (M.A.)

Degree Program

School of Community Leadership & Development

First Advisor

Joel Wendland-Liu

Academic Year



Social innovation scholarship often prioritizes tangible, product-based answers to questions of societal justice without examining the catalyst for change. Exploring the potential of the body to serve as a site of social innovation may complement the goals of emerging paradigms of social innovation that embrace new forms of knowing. The sensory knowledge developed through methods such as Augusto Boal’s Theatre of the Oppressed is systematized in the multidisciplinary field of somaesthetics, which looks closely at the disciplined cultivation of the body. This research project tracked the perceived body awareness and self-growth of formerly incarcerated individuals following four applied theatre workshops. Data from surveys and interviews show that the physicality of the medium catalyzed personal growth that extended outward, improving relationships and an impetus towards societal engagement. The goals of Theatre of the Oppressed, such as the loosening (or “demechanizing”) of previously institutionalized bodies, were achieved through playful games rather than through Boal’s more intensive exercises and debriefing. Further, the catharsis Boal sought to avoid instead activated the body consciousness prized by Shusterman, again serving the same goals. This study supports the claim that the body may indeed be considered a site for social innovation, with the results having the potential to influence the creation and focus of social change initiatives and open avenues for arts interventions beyond performance goals.