Shaking Hands and Standing Still: Lessons in Body Management from Two Elementary Schools
Peter Harvey

About the research


NAEd/Spencer Dissertation Fellowship

Award Year



University of Pennsylvania

Primary Discipline

It is a truism that schools shape young minds. But what about young bodies? Psychologists have repeatedly shown that bodily practices (e.g., eye contact, posture) influence outcomes in crucial moments, such as job interviews. Meanwhile, sociologists have highlighted many ways in which class shapes the cultural lessons children learn at home. Yet the role of schools in transmitting culture to students, particularly cultural norms of embodiment, has often been overlooked. As such, this study interrogates the role of schools in managing the movement, sound, and shape of children's bodies. I make use of three years of ethnographic observations conducted in two elementary schools ? one predominantly upper-middle-class, one predominantly working-class, both racially diverse. With this data I make three contributions. First, I highlight the process of socialization, detailing the influence of repeated implicit and explicit lessons in shaping behavior. Second, I highlight how schools with different class profiles emphasize different norms of embodiment (e.g., honing handshaking skills versus maintaining respectful deference). As part of this I show the ways certain students ? particularly students of color ? receive harsher treatment from teachers for ``inappropriate`` comportment. Finally, I examine the mis/match in values between teachers and parents in managing children's bodies. These foci call attention to embodiment as a crucial facet of cultural socialization, while also challenging our models on the transference and reproduction of inequality.
About Peter Harvey
Peter Francis Harvey is a PhD candidate in Sociology at the University of Pennsylvania. His primary research interests center on education, culture, and inequality. In addition to his doctoral studies, Peter has worked for several years as a Graduate Associate, living in a dorm and supporting undergraduate residents. Peter's work has featured in the Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion and the Bulletin of Sociological Methodology. His papers have received awards from the American Sociological Association's Children & Youth and Sociology of Religion sections. Hailing from the U.K, before joining Penn Peter received an (undergraduate) M.A. in Sociology and Politics from the University of Edinburgh and an M.Phil. in Sociology from the University of Cambridge.

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