Ola Johansson started out as an academic scholar with interests in performance art, philosophy and anthropology. After studies in New York and Stockholm he wrote his PhD (The Room's Need of a Name: A Philosophical Study of Performance (Stockholm: Theatron-serien, 2000) for which he received the prize for best doctoral thesis at Stockholm University that year. The thesis explored possibilities to change worlds about as big as performative instantiations, with reference to artists such as Richard Foreman, Christoph Marthaler and Lars Noren and philosophers like Isaac Luria, Ludwig Wittgenstein and Judith Butler.
This lead to further assignments in Sweden: a Research Associate post at Stockholm University (2000-2004), a freelance contract as a critic for Svenska Dagbladet (2000-2005), and editor for the performance journal Visslingar & Rop. New interests in possibilities of change drove Johansson away from Swedish academia, though.
The following five years would be spent in eastern and southern Africa, where he conducted ethnographic studies on applied performance as HIV prevention. This led to the publication of the monograph Community Theatre and AIDS (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2011). He also produced a short documentary on African community theatre and AIDS for CNN International (2004) and a revised version of the PhD with the title Performance and Philosophy: Interdisciplinary Approaches to the Performing Arts (Saarbrücken: VDM Verlag, 2008).
The African project transposed Johansson's mode of research from participant observation into the realm of practice-led action research. In 2005 he took up a post as Lecturer at Lancaster University, where he convened theoretical modules and the combined theoretical and practice-based course Radical Theatre (first designed by Baz Kershaw in the same department). The course was developed, in line with topical variants of applied theatre, into an umbrella unit with strands of educational, communal and political performance practices.
In 2009 Johansson temporarily moved back to Sweden where he, in capacity as Guest Professor in Artistic Research, took part in a merger between two institutions that became Stockholm Academy of Dramatic Arts. He also convened a course in Devsing for acting and directing students resulting in public performances, besides managing international research projects and teacher exchanges. For two executive years he introduced applied performance to postgraduate students at the University of Hyderabad in India. Furthermore, he has conducted increasingly political projects in applied performing and fine arts projects with Amanda Newall (Senior Lecturer at Royal Institute of Art in Stockholm) in collaboration with the Yes Men, the University of Cape Town, and in artistic residencies at SymbioticA institute, University of Western Australia and Fremantle Arts Centre.
Johansson is presently working on a new monograph with the working title From Performance to Participation via Performativity.