Script Theory


Performed identities, as called forth by a situation

Principal Metaphors

  • Knowledge is … repertoire of performances
  • Knowing is … acting a role
  • Learner is … an actor
  • Learning is … an emerging scene
  • Teaching is … co-acting




Script Theory rests on an analogy between patterns of human behaviors and written scripts. The basic unit of Script Theory is a “scene” – that is, an emotionally impactful sequence of events. A scene is seen to evoke a response that appears very much as though it was scripted, which is not the same as programmed or prescribed. There is always room for nuance and inflection.


Script Theory is based on a good analogy, but that’s all it really is. It is useful for interrupting commonsense assumptions around personal freedom and self-determination, highlighting that humans are coupled and situated beings … but, unlike theories of learning that develop the same notion, Script Theory doesn’t dig into why it might be. It permits a descriptive metaphor to masquerade as some sort of explanatory principle.

Authors and/or Prominent Influences

Silvan Tompkins

Status as a Theory of Learning

Script Theory is not a theory of learning.

Status as a Theory of Teaching

Script Theory isn’t really a theory of teaching, but it has received a good deal of airplay in recent discussions of teacher–student relationships. The tactic of inviting teachers to consider the scripts that they might be acting out with one or more of their students has been shown, in some cases at least, to be a useful device for summoning healthier roles and reactions.

Status as a Scientific Theory

Script Theory has become quite popular in some areas of education, especially in pre-service and in-service programs. However, as noted above, since it is little more than an analogy, it doesn’t meet the criteria of a scientific theory.

Map Location

Please cite this article as:
Davis, B., & Francis, K. (2019). “Script Theory” in Discourses on Learning in Education.

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