What would happen if researchers, performance artists and the regulars of a suburban bar were brought together for a pint of beer and debate on immigration? This was a question back in 2017 that started immigration-themed Puhekupla events in suburban bars in Helsinki, Finland, and eventually marked a formation of a Puhekupla collective. Puhekupla (Speech Bubble) collective is a group of three social scientists and three dance and theatre professionals. By teaming social research, everyday observations, and participatory drama, our aim has been to find an approach that could foster dialogue on immigration, discrimination, and racism in Finnish society, as well as to produce unlikely encounters, genuinely reciprocal learning experiences, and open up new perspectives to all participants, including ourselves. In 2018 and 2019, the events continued in sheltered housing units for elderly people and in bars and libraries in smaller Finnish cities. Eventually, the process turned into a research project as well, with threefold thematic focus. In our research, we combine discursive, auto-ethnographic and social scientific / socio-pedagogical approaches to study, respectively, the modalities of interaction; our roles as researchers/artist-activists doing such work as well as the collaboration of social scientists and performance artists; and participatory theatre as a space for and invitation to a dialogue on social issues.
The presentation discusses the experiences gathered during the three years of Puhekupla events concentrating on the last one of our research focuses. We analyse the drama-based approach of Puhekupla events as a space for fostering dialogue on a controversial and potentially polarising topic, such as immigration. Theoretically, the analysis relies on the concept of dialogue understood as a process of joint learning and as a skill that needs to be practiced, as well as on the notion of public pedagogy as a normative concept interested in “the public quality of spaces and places and the public quality of human togetherness more generally” (Biesta 2012, 684).