Carnival body in the drama classroom: A visual ethnographic inquiry

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This paper aims to investigate the children’s carnival body in meaning making in drama classroom. Drama education is widely considered as open, imaginative and dialogic educational practice and pedagogy. It is also likened as a medieval carnival as carnival images such as laughter, joke, frolic, parody, popular literacies and free bodily contact are commonly found in drama classroom. It has great potential to transform meaning anew by subverting the dominant discourse and transgressing the social conventions. However, we cannot assume a taken-for-granted relationship between the practice of drama education and its carnivalesque. The author’s (2008, 2010) previous studies have identified some critical conditions to this carnival transformation with the use of drama activities in primary classrooms. They include constructing an unfinished drama space of meaning making, appropriating and hybridising various sort of languages, activating children’s imagination and creation and cultures, and valorising their bodily responses. A recent visual ethnography conducted in eight kindergartens and 64 classrooms verified the carnivalesque of drama education and these conditions to its practice. In this paper, two classrooms with identified vigorous carnival body images were sampled to explore the interplay among carnival body, teacher’s perception and children’s meaning making. Multiple methods aiming to construct a thick description of the carnival drama practice in the classrooms were employed. The methods included scrutiny of both verbal and bodily classroom discourse, in-depth video-stimulated interviews with the teachers, and interviews with the children with use of their drawings. The results show that the identified laughing, grotesque and transgressive bodies are not limited to children but also teachers. Their emergence of carnival body has a close connection with the teacher’s acting in role, use of fantasy stories and sanction of boundless and affective body in classroom. The children’s drawings and talking also reveal that this carnival practice of drama education contributes to children’s ongoing, heterogeneous and creative retelling and re-creation of the drama story. They are able to transform the story and drama frame with appropriation of their own reading and live experience, and also personal intention, interest, knowledge and culture. This study shifts the focus of discussion of carnival educational practice to the children and teacher’s bodily expression and creation in the classroom. Inscribed on them are their feelings, thinking and cultures. It also urges the drama educators to actively reflect the educational meaning of children’s carnival responses in drama lessons. Copyright © 2015 AERA.


Conference2015 Annual Meeting of American Educational Research Association: "Toward Justice: Culture, Language, and Heritage in Education Research and Praxis"
Abbreviated titleAERA 2015
Country/TerritoryUnited States
CityChicago, Ill.
Internet address


Tam, P. C. (2015, April). Carnival body in the drama classroom: A visual ethnographic inquiry. Paper presented at The 2015 American Educational Research Association Annual Meeting (AERA 2015): Toward justice: Culture, language, and heritage in education research and praxis, Sheraton Chicago, Chicago, Illinois.


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