Feet, footwork, footwear, and “being alive” in the modern school

02 Aug 2017

This article considers the theoretical argument of anthropologist Tim Ingold, that the denial and subsequent encasement of bare feet in footwear was a critical characteristic of the development of modern societies, in exploring three aspects of feet, footwork, and footwear in the history of the modern school. First, the material conditions of feet and footwear are considered towards a sensory, social, cultural, and symbolic understanding of the significance of these body parts and the technological and relational forces at play in the development of modern school systems. Second, the act, experience, and pedagogical intention of walking to and from school is examined through the memories of ex-pupils recounting informal incidental learning experiences as well as through a progressive ideology of urban anarchist pedagogy. Third, the promotion of modern dance and movement in postwar primary education in England is examined with regard to the significance attached to bare feet and the sense of touch in modern school environments. Finally, the article concludes with some observations regarding the historical significance of a shift of focus to the feet of school children in twentieth-century progressive educational agendas.