University of Limerick
Kennedy_2014_Making.pdf (1.78 MB)

The making of “a product to be proud of”: an ethnographic examination of the role of the physical curriculum in the social construction of elite bodies and the social stratification of the elite educted student

Download (1.78 MB)
posted on 2022-12-20, 11:52 authored by Margaret Kennedy
This thesis contributes to our understanding of the social reproduction of human bodies. Where in looking beyond the body’s role as “a mere input mechanism for informations that the brain then makes sense of” this thesis argues “the body can itself be the site of inquiry” (Khan 2011, p.116). From this perspective, the body is recognised as “a social entity on which social beliefs, social values and social practices are inscribed” (Gard & Wright 2005, p.175). In doing so, this thesis reveals how ‘the management and development of the body is central in its own right to the production of cultural and economic capital and the attainment and maintenance of status” (Shilling 1992, p.3). Consequently, as an important site for the acquisition of bodily dispositions, this thesis recognises the important role the school one attends plays in determining much of an individual’s future, with the cultural preferences within different schools having the potential to produce bodies of differing value. Yet while there is some awareness of the manner in which the dominant classes manipulate the distribution of cognitive knowledge, the role corporeal knowledge plays, is not acknowledged or understood. While academic advantages (like smaller class sizes, or private tuition) are acknowledged as impacting on academic results (Lynch 1989; Lynch and Lodge 2002; Smyth 2008; Smyth and Hannon 2007; Butler 2009) and thus on future careers, advantages in corporeal terms are not considered of any major or lasting significance. A lack of appreciation, that I would argue is at least partly attributable to “the mechanisms by which these advantages are transmitted” being “imperfectly understood” (Lareau 2002, p.747), a situation which is clearly exacerbated by cognitive knowledge being “fairly easy to disseminate and to display,” while corporeal knowledge remains a much more ill-defined, nebulous concept (Khan 2011, p.64). Elite schools, long recognised as key institutions for the transmission of a range of social advantages, also excel at the transmission of corporeal knowledge. In fact, it can be argued that much of the ability of dominant groups to define their bodies and lifestyles as superior can be attributed to the emphasis elite schools place on developing physical capital in their students (Light & Kirk 2001). For this reason, I would argue that to truly understand the reproduction of privilege, greater attention must be paid to elites corporeal disciplining (Khan 2011). Thus, this thesis seeks to demonstrate how through the transmission of corporeal knowledge and more specifically, the physical curriculum in elite schools, privileged groups develop particular bodily dispositions and particular views of their bodies which serve to reinforce their class positions. Demonstrating how physical capital (in the form of body dispositions) is socially produced through a series of cultural processes, this thesis reveals the strong relationship between elite education and the social production of ‘valued’ bodies, and in so doing casts light upon the embodied mechanisms that ensures the reproduction or transformation of the elite social world.


Using the Cloud to Streamline the Development of Mobile Phone Apps

Innovate UK

Find out more...



  • Faculty of Science and Engineering


  • Doctoral

First supervisor

Power, Martin J.

Second supervisor

MacPhail, Ann



Other Funding information




Department or School

  • Sociology

Usage metrics

    University of Limerick Theses


    No categories selected


    Ref. manager