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"The Cycle of Sociality"

"It is recognised that all cultures function upon a foundation of patterns, no matter what stage of development they find themselves part of. They see this as circular with neither beginning or ending but a constantly developing structure: patterns – habits – rules – rituals – laws" 

Dorothy described this structure as the “cycle of sociality and bondings in social events”: the layers of social encounters, which “establish social behaviours among peoples”.


She insisted: "I believe that if you are going to train teachers, this is the basis of thinking for teaching through a drama system. ... It’s the playwright; it’s the writer, it’s absolutely basic to teaching, if you’re going to use tasks that have meaning."

It’s an important aspect of her work and thinking which seems to be little known.

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Yet she insisted that teachers “have to learn to think in this detail”; to “unfasten the social scene” in terms of the codes of behaviour (habit, ritual, etc.). This does not mean that they necessarily have “to be saying it all the time” to pupils; but it is “a way of looking at events”.

This is how she defined the different stages of the ‘cycle’:

Habits: to do regularly; customary; routines accepted by all. Used among kinfolk.

Patterns: systematic arrangements: repeated with regularity. Subscribed to as being useful for all those acquainted.

Rules: demonstrate principles and guidelines for behaviour; the wider social encounters inclusive of strangers.

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Laws: directives for behaviour. Social controlling systems. Penalties and rewards. Agreed actions and procedures. Administrators and experts are initiated.

Rituals: ceremonies and solemnities. Behaviour understood to have symbolic meaning understood or agreed by all. Specific procedures and customary observances designed to pass meanings forward to those who follow. Importance of observances.

Finally, there are wider social rituals - for example, to do with tea-drinking (e.g. the tea-drinking rituals in Japan). 

She used the example of the protocol for welcoming guests to your house. You usually offer people a cup of tea when they arrive. We develop our own personal habits for this (her habit was to offer people a “posh serviette”). In “pattern”, on the other hand, “we know something of why it has to be done like that”; it is something we can explain. In families, patterns are formed, perhaps over generations, as the way things are always done.

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Then, there are unspoken rules: for example, if there is a drinks coaster, you are expected to put your drink on it: “The sign is laid out; it becomes a rule, because ‘that’s how we do it’...”


In the fourth stage of the “cycle,” there are “laws” – for example, to do with hygiene. (She observed that she trusts the law that the ingredients on the packets of tea or biscuits etc. are accurate.)

Here is a sheet of activities devised by Dorothy for students to explore this “cycle.” It seems she planned that they should take an overall theme such as the concept of sharing, and develop examples to do with habit, pattern, etc.

1st exercise for students to demonstrate 5 stages of sociality

To find a way in small groups to explain/demonstrate these five levels via one line of development e.g. concept of sharing.

1. Habit  warming the pot. Filling the bowls. Saying a blessing.

2. Pattern: preparing a meal together. sharing the result.

disposing of remains

3. Rule. recognising useful and dangerous plants. proportion.

4. Laws. measuring - weights and measures. medications. procedures.

5. Rituals. libations and toasts, cutting cake at weddings

Others: gifting, memory, exploitation, time, contests, promises/oaths, fairness.

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When Midland Actors Theatre worked with Dorothy on a Mantle project, she suggested that, from the start, we should drop in occasional references to this “customary framework” of habits and rules etc. – e.g., ‘Well, of course, we’ve always done it this way...’.

As part of her M.Ed. thesis, Eileen Pennington undertook a Mantle with Dorothy. The “enterprise” was a paper manufacturer, called “PaperKraft.” The factory had its own rules, patterns and rituals, which (it was suggested to the children) had been handed down by previous generations. For example, pupils would “clock in” each time they entered the “factory.”

It was also established that the factory “manager” (Dorothy in role) would shake each worker’s hand at the start of each day. It was a “pattern” with a meaning behind it: for the manager, it was a way of letting the workers “know you value them.”

The children were asked what passed through their minds as they went through the ritual; their responses included:

“I’m ready for work. I like work.”

“Let’s hope I can do a good day’s work.”

“I’m going to work hard.”  

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In this way, the action was “broken down and examined” for meaning. It also became part of the “bonding” or “we-feeling”: the group’s awareness of being part of a shared culture, and a shared experience.

A copy of Eileen Pennington’s M.Ed. thesis “Ritual Encounters During Drama Processes” (University of Newcastle-upon-Tyne, 1986) is held in the Dorothy Heathcote Archive, Manchester Metropolitan Museum. Photo: Dorothy at home, with Zeki Özen

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