Accepted Paper:

Getting it right: learning new movements, manners and attitudes  


Karin Högström (Stockholm University)

Paper short abstract:

Middle Eastern dance classes, courses for jobseekers and an integration project for Somali refugees are examples of how techniques of the body are taught in processes including transmission of attitudes and ideals. There are, however, differences in the participants’ relative power and status.

Paper long abstract:

Using ethnographic examples from Sweden this presentation focuses education where people are taught new movements and postures in processes also including transmission of certain attitudes and ideals.

In Middle Eastern dance classes in Stockholm pupils learn new and unfamiliar movements, largely by imitation. They are also introduced to Middle Eastern culture and taught how dancers should act in relation to the audience. In an integration-project, illiterate Somali refugees are taught new skills, e.g. to greet a person in the "right" way (eye-contact and firm handshake). Participants are told how to raise children in Sweden (do not hit them!). They are also encouraged to exercise more and avoid wearing big headscarves. A course by the Swedish employment office instructs jobseekers how to make a good impression on potential employers. Participants are taught not only what to say, but also correct posture, facial expression and tone of voice.

These courses aim at changing not only the participants' posture and movements, but also their manners and, to a certain extent, their attitudes and emotions. Bodies and minds are purposefully adapted to certain cultural contexts. There are, however, considerable differences in the participants' relative power and position in Swedish society. While most Swedish women learn Middle Eastern dance to add extra quality to their lives, the unemployed have little choice other than adapting to the demands of employers. The ways of Somali refugees are ascribed almost no value in Sweden. Profound changes of their behaviour and attitudes are therefore considered necessary.

Panel P17
Body, corporeality and configuration: the affective body in the vortex of culture, identity and communication