Cultivating students' bodies: Producing physical, poetic and socio-political subjectivities in elite schools

Year: 2012

Author: Shaw, Matthew, Fahey, Johannah

Type of paper: Abstract refereed


How do elite schools use students' bodies to form specific identities and subjectivities? How are these students' subjectivities linked to power and ideology? And how are students' bodies and subjectivities framed in relation to the nation, the region and the globe? This presentation is informed by a history of thought in social theory, whereby the body is thought of as a complex and contested product of entwined material, social, cultural and historical forms (Featherstone et al. 1991; Turner 1996). In the context of three elite schools (in Cyprus, Barbados and England) and following Blackman's (2008) more recent work we are interested in the ways in which students' bodies are materialized and normalized in certain ways in these elite schools.


We will begin by examining the physical body in relation to sport and the political and ideological boundaries that exist in between the Greek Cypriot and Turkish Cypriot students. Boundaries dominate the real and imagined landscape on the island and the school is one of the few sites that makes an active attempt to cross them. It is, however, also a site in which cultural, social and historical forces interact to ensure their preservation. We will consider sport as one means of breaking through boundaries but also as a site where conflicting ideologies meet. The use of the body in this space, or its withdrawal from it, is a means by which students attempt to maintain control of their own ideology and identity.


We will then look at the ways in which poetics and politics contribute to the representation of particular kinds of racialized bodies. We will consider the aesthetic and political dimensions of real or imagined bodies and elaborate on how this links to bodies as subjects and the articulation of subjects, the State, politics and economy. In the Barbadian school, the content of the students' artwork is intrinsically linked to the promotion of an 'ideal Caribbean' identity, as a means to leverage regional affiliation and as a way to compete on a global stage. In the English context, successful A-level students are represented in the media as white, British students. However, this does not reflect the reality in the school under discussion, as it is international students that are academic and artistic high achievers. Furthermore, it is through such artistic expression that such students find a voice that may have otherwise been silenced.


Blackman, L. (2008) The Body: The Key Concepts, Oxford and New York: Berg.

Featherstone, M., M. Hepworth & B. S. Turner (1991) The Body: social process and cultural theory, London: Sage.

Turner, B.S. (1996) The Body and Society, London: Sage.