The legendary biologist Edward O. Wilson launching his book on “The origins of creativity” wrote “Creativity is the unique and defining trait of our species; and its ultimate goal, self-understanding” (Wilson 2017). With this opening, he begins the examination of humanities and their relationship to sciences.
The search for understanding about human aspects and finding possibilities and modalities for the expression and fulfilment of each person, is conceived and proposed by J.L Moreno not just as a mere cognitive process, but as a process connecting cognition and the practice of action within the social context each person lives in. Creativity has a crucial role in this process. It is, together with spontaneity, considered the cornerstone of Moreno’s theory that underpins the development of sociometry, psychodrama and sociodrama (Moreno 1953).
In “Who shall survive?” Moreno affirms “creativity belongs to the categories of substance—it is the arch substance—spontaneity to the category of catalyser—it is the arch catalyser” (1953, p. 40). As a physician and social philosopher, he picked out these categories from his studies on metaphysics and, through his method, he transferred them from the philosophical level to an empirical one. In doing so, he began to research and elaborate a methodological proposal of connecting theory to practice in which “action” is the key element to understanding and for the development of each human being, communities, and the world, to fight social injustice and inequality, and to promote the full expression of the potentials and talents of each person (Nolte 2014). The result of a meeting between spontaneity and creativity is called conserve, which can be social, technological, or cultural. Conserve is meant in a dual modality: it represents the result of the encounter between spontaneity and creativity and the base on which to start a new creative process. Consequently, all productions, since they are results of a human creative process, represents a conserve (inventions, tools, social institutions, codified practices, stereotypes, works of art, etc.), and when they are subsumed within the approach of innovation are a starter to a further production. However, when a conserve is deified and rigidly taken as unchangeable, the creativity process is interrupted, and development is undermined. A similar process was conceptualized as the stage of “generativity—stagnation” by Erik Erickson in his “cycle of life” development theory (Erikson and Erikson 1998) that, although particularly referred to adulthood, seems to be related with the “Canon of Creativity” by Moreno (1955).
Moreno and “action research”
Moreno’s approach, when considered from a research perspective, is meant as an action theory that is the result of a creative integration of theories, research, and practice. This approach considers the researcher “as ‘co-operator’ just as the researched are ‘co-actors’” (Gunz 1996, p. 146). The common goal of researcher and co-actors is to become “experts” of human connection in order to enable communities to shift from a non-caring and individualistic attitude to the attitude of connection, care, love, and promotion of the development of all the members and the community as a whole (Moreno 1953). For this reason, referring to Moreno just as the father of psychodrama seems to be limited. His approach can be considered not only as strictly therapeutic, from the psychological and psychiatric side, but also, and even more so, as a social, pedagogical, and educational method that, by offering each person the possibility to unfold his/her spontaneity and creativity, builds communities of equity and support.
Therefore, the approach of Moreno is useful to other more commonly used frameworks on “action research” based, in primis, on the work by Kurt Lewin (1946) and on the influences the pragmatic and experiential approach in education by John Dewey (1938). Gunz acknowledges Moreno as a founder, or at least a pioneer, of action research (1996) underlying how Lewin’s achievements are rooted in sociometry.
What is key, in Moreno, is that action research deals with the integration and participation of people in the process of social change and in the fight against social inequalities.
Chaskin defines “community capacity” as the interaction of different capital (human, organizational and social) within a given community and he highlight that that capital can be used and leverage to solve problems and to promote the well-being of the community itself (Chaskin 2001; Chaskin et al. 2001). Looking at community capacity from a Morenian perspective and within the field of action research, connects Morenian thought to the perspective of critical pedagogy by Paulo Freire (1970) who claims education is the key to liberate people from oppression by establishing an egalitarian power shift in education and social processes. From a sociometry perspective, what happens on the stage via sociodrama and psychodrama fosters what Freire considers the achievement of critical consciousness of social structures. This empowers participants with the ability to explore how they can contribute, from their different roles, to social change.
Action research is defined as a research “grounded in lived experience, developed in partnership, addressing significant problems, working with, rather than simply studying, people, developing new ways of seeing/theorizing the world, and leaving infrastructure in its wake” (Bradbury and Reason 2003, p. 155). Hence, social workers operate as “frontline implementers of important social policies and suggest how action research can be used to both implement and also influence the creation of such policies” (p. 155).
Creativity, art-based research, and sociodrama
Including the notions of spontaneity-creativity-conserve, within a research perspective, attention is given to the role of expressive arts in research and to Art Based Research (ABR) which from a methodological point of view refers to “qualitative research paradigms, such as narrative, hermeneutic, heuristic, and phenomenologically based perspectives, as art making in all its modalities was conceptualized as a form of direct experience” (Childton and Leavy 2014, p. 405). ABR represents an opportunity for “knowing different and collaboratively” (Liamputtong and Rumbold 2008) in a way that is intrinsically “socially responsible, politically activist and locally useful” (Finley 2005, p. 681). Using artistic expression may appear to be “frivolous, trivializing, or eccentric. There may be an assumption that the aim of arts work is emotional expression at the expense of analytic understanding” (Walton 2012, p. 724–725). However, it is strongly connected with social work practice because it implies the ability to communicate and to find different and unusual ways of communication and connections to be efficient, meaningful and effective. ABR fosters processes aimed at avoiding to suppress the subject to a passive role by promoting participation of each actor and by listening to the different voices and perspectives according to an ethical frame that connects relational practices to the sought after social justice. Doing ABR implies using methods and tools belonging to creative arts field “in order to address the social research questions in holistic and engaged ways in which theory and practice are intertwined” (Leavy 2015, p. 4). These tools are intentionally chosen and used in one or more phase of the research process: data generation and collection, analysis, interpretation, and presentation and discussion.
I suggest, in this specific reflection on research, to consider the Morenian use of “drama” and theatre as a form of expressive art (Moreno 1947) and, particularly, to refer to sociodrama as relevant method to use Morenian “drama” in a research perspective. Moreno influenced and inspired by the “philosopher of the encounter” Martin Buber, focused on the meeting between two people as the smallest unit of relationship that is the tenet to each human development. From this unit, he developed his contribution to role theory and group theory, with many consequent implications for the practice: the goal of each practice is to promote each person being, at the same time, the creator of his/her development and the co-creator of the community, which implies fostering the development of other members. Sociodrama is an educational modality that, by creating “for instance situations”, “directs its attention to human growth and interaction by attending to collective role aspects. It also promotes human development in a global manner […] actively immerses the participants in the process [… who is] involved, activated, and impacted by the group process as it creates enactments of importance to all” (Sternberg and Garcia 2000, p. 7). Role is referred to as a set of behaviours culturally recognized and agreed upon, and it is considered in its two dimensions: one shared and defined by collective components, and the other individual and defined by private components (Moreno 1947, 1961). Contrary to psychodrama, which facilitates the exploration of private components focusing on intrapsychic aspects (clinical—therapeutic goals), sociodrama is a group action method that focuses on group and social components (Moreno 1953), and offers participants a safe method and context to work on the roles they share with others by sorting out ideas, making decisions, empowering the way they play roles, practicing new roles, and becoming more spontaneous and playful.