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The creation of social space and emotions through gestures. An ethnographic case study

Kellermann, I., Wulf, C. – 2011

This contribution will focus on the multidimensionality of the constitution of space in pedagogical settings, particularly with regard to the mediality of gestures. Through the medium of bodily forms of expression, spaces are constituted, educational processes are structured and emotions are shaped. This anthropological perspective forms the basis of the ethnographic study at hand, which empirically investigates the interplay of gestures, emotions and (social) constitution of spaces. The research project takes place in an inner-city primary school in a German city; the cooperation between the FU and this school has existed for more than 12 years. Fifteen years ago, the school’s orientation toward the principles of progressive education was introduced. Hence, the pupils are taught in mixed-age learning groups. The current research interest is on how pedagogic interactions are generated in relation to room requirements and arrangements, as well as of how those involved are positioned and act together. For this purpose, we studied a particular learning group composed of first to third graders. In addition to participant observation, two cameras videotaped the classroom interactions. Using excerpts from the data material, this contribution shows how pedagogical settings in the teaching of new first graders are arranged. In these settings, emotions are represented using gestures, and (social) spaces are generated which have an influence both on the interactions and the atmosphere. It becomes clear that gestures are highly context-dependent, and thus are to be understood and interpreted according to the reciprocal effects of actions and structures only in their particular educational setting. The symbolic and/or ritual character of these reciprocal interactions provides practical knowledge about courses of action that aid in the organization of institutional situations. Their dynamic dimension arises from the interplay of the corporeal, mimetic and performative character of bodily expression, as well as the spatial-material arrangements through which institutional situations are actively influenced, affectively experienced and subjectively evaluated by those involved. The results show that pedagogical settings achieve social effects that cannot always be anticipated and planned. In this sense, body and room arrangement coincide as mediums that communicate information about the individual as well as the learning community. With reference to a relational and process-based understanding of space, the study at hand develops four dimensions of gestural forms of expression that are significant from an educational and social science perspective: gestures as movements of the body, gestures as expression and representation, gestures as a means of education and upbringing, and gestures as forms of meaning generation. As a public place, the classroom is an educational space that institutionalizes many educational options through areas that are structured in different ways. Its social effects are achieved through the interaction of space, the body and social practices that contain symbolic references. The study illustrates that the mimetic, performative, corporeal and imaginative aspects of gestures must be taken into account in the discussion of a dynamic conception of space.

The creation of social space and emotions through gestures. An ethnographic case study
Kellermann, I., Wulf, C.
Erschienen in
'Révue Européene d''Ethnographie de l''education 10.'