Society for Psychological Anthropology
Oral Presentation Session
This presentation explores young children’s affects, subjectivities, relations, and interpretation of the field of meanings surrounding ranking (reading levels and grades). Based on ethnographic research with children in a kindergarten classroom of a New York City public school, I demonstrate how ranking had profound yet subtle effects on children’s subjective orientation to schooling, their view of themselves as learners, and as humans in relation to the other humans in their midst. The study relies on a conceptualization of learning inspired by Frantz Fanon and Sylvia Wynter’s accounting of sociogenesis, that is, as part of the process of initiation into “personhood” within the symbolic templates and master codes of “value / non-value” within a society. This view reveals how ranking colonizes the learning process: its logic embeds itself within the social relations of learning and imbues the emotionally-laden nature of learning. I argue that ranking creates the social, emotional, affective foundations for accepting, even desiring hierarchy and as such can be seen as part of the inculcation of neoliberal subjects. I focus on the peculiarly linear temporality of the neoliberal hierarchical scale, and its relation to race, class and gender inequalities. These individuating practices of the neoliberal classroom coexisted with practices that fostered a sense of conviviality and communal ways of being together. In conclusion, I ask how we can incorporate children’s perspectives into theories of learning (and being and becoming human) to allow existing liberatory impulses to flourish.