This doctoral study is grounded in the work of cultural studies and its concern for pedagogy and education. The study investigated a local pedagogical issue— Independent Enquiry Study (IES)—a specific form of social inquiry in the core subject Liberal Studies (LS) in Hong Kong senior secondary schools. It took a designated IES classroom as the point of intervention and as the basis for exploring transformed pedagogical practices in Hong Kong secondary school education. My vantage point of the intervention rested on participant-observation through action research and critical contextual analysis of the action-research site and its relations to the wider social contexts. With a conceptual-analytical framework of drama and the performative, developed from William’ notion of drama and Schechner’s notion of make-belief and make-believe performances, this study examined how the method of drama could mediate a group of senior secondary students’ extended process of inquiry into social issues in contemporary Hong Kong society.
Findings reveal that IES in Hong Kong senior secondary schools is almost already performative in nature and IES students were almost already performers eager to present themselves to their teacher-assessors as knowledge builders capable of reflective thinking. In fact, these students subscribed to the positivistic and cynical practices of reproducing existing curricular (and media) discourses and applying them to understanding the social. In performing seeming acts of inquiry, these IES students would re-enact the prescribed curricular (and media) discourses of understanding and reproducing the existing social order.
Research findings indicate that drama can be a method of work that supports student inquirers socially as a group. Liminal dramatic spaces and the use of dramatic role and real-life image afforded the participant-students the opportunity to create, experience, and interpret an imaginary world, promoting social inquiry. The spaces helped give shape to students’ diverse roles including those of IES co-informant, member of society, and peer IES learner-assessor. By activating these roles, students momentarily suspended self-other relations and the mechanically induced perceptions of social realities typified by conventional IES method. Drama also functions as a lens. It reflects how the method of IES typifies students’ roles as performers and sustains their dependence on templates of work and on the teachers’ assessment guides. Research findings further show that the performative make-belief schooling practices encompassed the everyday school life of the participating students and their teachers, and indeed subsumed and contained the effects of my dramatic interventions within the action-research context. The IES students at this specific research site were subjected to a process of cynical subject formation. When it comes to social inquiry, these students’ cynical IES practices, including cynical IES reasoning, is partly the result of the teachers’ instructional needs. Hence, dramatic and academic interventions in IES processes will be ineffective if wider school and social contextual elements are not reworked. The study calls for collective efforts from academics and scholars to intervene in all levels of educational practices, with the aim of remaking the vast contextual sweep of teaching and learning in Hong Kong as a way out of these cynical and positivistic inquiry-learning practices.