Hands-Eyes-Voices Towards an Interactional View of Embodied Learning and Educational Equity
Shirin Vossoughi

About the research


NAEd/Spencer Postdoctoral Fellowship

Award Year



Northwestern University

Primary Discipline

Political Science
While research on learning and equity provides detailed analyses of pedagogical talk, less attention has been given to the embodied dimensions of educational interaction. Likewise, research on embodied learning foregrounds the ways bodies engage with tools and with one another to deepen intellectual activity, but has not adequately contended with the political and relational dimensions of embodiment—including the interpersonal history of the relationships under study, or the ways assumptions about intelligence or capability are communicated. To address these gaps, this project provides a longitudinal, micro-ethnographic analysis of embodied learning through careful observation of 1) the coordination of teachers’ and students’ hands, eyes and voices within project-based, scientific and artistic activities, and 2) the forms of assistance that deepen students’ learning, social relationships, and sense of capability and dignity over time. While all learning is, in a sense, “embodied,” my use of this term highlights both the physical, gestural and artifact-mediated dimensions of educational activity, and the kinds of ethical and pedagogical values embodied in moment-to-moment interaction. This study is grounded in a participatory design research project focused on providing rich forms of afterschool STEM and arts education for non-dominant students, and traces a focal group of children, youth and adults over a three-year period.Identifying the specific configurations of hands, eyes and voices that restricted or supported learning in this setting will contribute to building adequately dynamic and perceptive tools for the design of equitable educational environments. I also seek to develop a theory and method for studying embodied learning that substantively attends to power and equity. This includes the conceptual yield of paying close attention to the subjective experience of learning as tied to questions of dignity, taking a historical view of bodies in educational settings, and defining embodiment as tied to the ways people work to collectively rehearse and inhabit more humanizing social relations. I am especially interested in the ways a shifting quality of social relationships may signal collective forms of embodiment, such that particular choreographies of pedagogical interaction shape and sustain expansive contexts for learning.
About Shirin Vossoughi
Shirin Vossoughi is an assistant professor at Northwestern University’s School of Education and Social Policy, where she draws on ethnographic methods to study the social, cultural, historical, and political dimensions of learning and educational equity. Bringing together the interpretive study of talk and interaction with cultural-historical approaches to learning, Vossoughi seeks to integrate macro-political concerns (racial inequity, deficit ideologies, neoliberal educational reforms) with detailed studies of educational settings that imagine and inhabit alternative social relations. Vossoughi’s research centers on hybrid learning environments that blend formal and informal elements and support young people to engage in sophisticated forms of disciplinary thinking while questioning and expanding disciplinary boundaries. As the daughter of Iranian immigrants and political exiles, Vossoughi is personally invested in the creative development of educational settings for youth from migrant, immigrant, and diasporic backgrounds. She takes a collaborative approach to research and design, partnering with teachers and students to study the conditions that foster educational dignity and possibility. Building on her work as a postdoctoral fellow at Stanford University and at the Exploratorium in San Francisco, Vossoughi currently leads a team of educators and researchers interested in studying afterschool tinkering/making programs that design for equity. This project has a particular focus on questions of embodiment, including the role of talk, gesture, gaze and timing in expanding or restricting the social relations and forms of learning that emerge over time.

Pin It on Pinterest