Bringing Emotions into Elite Education Research: How Swedish Students Learn to Feel, Express and Manage Self-Confidence in Elite Schooling

Thursday, 19 July 2018
Distributed Paper
Max PERSSON, Uppsala University, Sweden
Scholars of elite education debate how to understand “ease” and “embodied ease”, as well as its exact relation to (re)production of social and educational inequalities. In this presentation, I demonstrate that in order to understand inclusion and exclusion in elite school settings, it is crucial to pay attention to the emotion of self-confidence. Whereas the sociological literature on confidence and self-confidence to a large degree is theoretical, my presentation adds an account of how this emotion can be empirically studied and understood.

The current study is based on ethnographic field work where we follow students from two elite high schools in Sweden, with different educational and social profiles, when they participate in a parliamentarian role-play game. Methodologically, the study combines participant observation during the game and qualitative interviews with students, teachers, and staff. The competitive game lacks a teacher authority and is not a graded activity, putting pressure on students to cooperate as well as negotiate what constitutes winning and losing. The findings suggest there is an ongoing negotiation among the students on what should count as correct/incorrect expressions of elite self-confidence, which in turn is linked to processes of inclusion/exclusion in the student group. Furthermore, the particular experience and expression of, as well as the ability to manage, the embodied emotion of self-confidence, is shown to be interlinked with gender and social class.

The role-play game is used as an ethnographic site letting us explore emotional socialization in an educational setting. It is shown that students learn to feel, express and manage the emotion of self-confidence both as an intended and unintended consequence of elite schooling. These results adds to the understanding of self-confidence within sociology of emotions. Furthermore, the findings challenge the previous debate on ease, showing that the research can benefit from a sociology of emotions approach.