Building theatrical epistemic communities in the Global South

Expert networks, philanthropy and theatre studies in Nigeria 1959-1969


  • Christopher B. Balme LMU München



In this paper I propose that the concept of an epistemic community can be adapted to describe how theatre artists, scholars, critics and pedagogues organized themselves as such a community and that several interrelated epistemic communities constituted themselves to promote a practice of theatre within the framework of decolonization. The paper shows how US philanthropic funding, here the Rockefeller foundation, invested heavily in assisting with the establishment of a theatre studies department at Nigeria’s first and premier university at Ibadan. Employing network analysis the paper shows how Rockefeller, represented by its field officer Robert W. July, played a pivotal role in supporting young Nigerian theatre artists such as Wole Soyinka and Demas Nwoko as well as expatriate go-betweens (Ulli Beier, Martin Banham, Geoffrey Axworthy). Rockefeller was working parallel to the CIA-backed Council for Cultural Freedom, which was also funding the arts in Nigeria. The result was a highly innovative theatre department that by international standards was pioneering in its combination of theatre practice and academic research.