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Cluster of Excellence "Languages of Emotion"



Esteem – learning atmosphere – performance assessment.
Processes of emotional regulation within classroom instruction

On the basis of extensive preliminary work, especially in the “Cultures of the Performative” collaborative research center, research in this project aims to examine the connection between processes involved in regulating emotions and how classroom instruction is organized. Within the framework of a pedagogical ethnography, the research will focus on the relationships between teaching students to demonstrate self-esteem and esteem for others, fostering of a productive learning atmosphere, and the techniques used to gauge performance. The empirical research field is composed of the interactions between teachers and schoolchildren, as well as among the schoolchildren themselves, at an elementary school in Berlin that has agreed to collaborate in the proposed research project.


School-based education performs a constant balancing act between curricular requirements for performance assessments and the teaching-related demand that children be encouraged and taught to develop their own personalities. Because this fundamental contradiction cannot be resolved, but rather – at the most – balanced out in teaching activities, the term “esteem” takes on its fundamental importance at this interface. At the same time, it becomes clear even solely from Luhmann’s use of the term “institutional selection code,” that teachers and students alike engender explicit and implicit criteria for evaluating others and themselves, criteria that can manifest themselves in dualistic differentiation between good and bad, social and antisocial, popular and unpopular (Luhmann 2004: 32 – 34; also Petillon 1993; 2007). This type of differentiation goes far beyond the evaluation of students’ performance in school, even extending to descriptions of character or personality. The question therefore arises of how practices involving self-esteem and respect for others influence the development of a productive learning atmosphere and contribute to handling the differentiations arising during the teaching process as a result of evaluations of school performance.


This project aims to demonstrate that the development of self-esteem and mutual respect is an essential feature of school-based instruction, because it involves not only the acquisition of specific behavioral competencies on the part of the schoolchildren (meaning social skills), but also the teacher’s own function as a role model and his or her own abilities to handle emotion – subjects that have to date largely been left out of the discourse surrounding education studies. Acknowledgement of teaching-related authority, and with it the full development of the teaching process, are in no small degree connected to performative practices that express esteem. Within architectural settings – meaning tangible, material learning arrangements – and through interactions involving words, voices, facial expressions, and physical gestures, powerful behavioral relationships are acted out, generating a code of esteem.


The project will select and interpret specific interaction scenes as trouble spots in the transition between different forms of instruction and in the course of school-specific evaluation techniques. In addition, the selected scenes will be compared with an eye to specifics of the class, learning group, student, and teacher. This comparison will make it possible for the researchers to arrive at a generalized view of the empirical results with respect to the question of how the mimetic ability to express self-esteem and mutual esteem is applied, modified, and regulated within the institution of the school.


Project headed by:

Dr. Christoph Wulf, University Professor



Martin Bittner, Dipl.-Päd.

Dr. Iris Clemens

Dr. Ingrid Kellermann


Student Assistant:

Urs Kübler



Happiness as a portrayal and social behavior in families and schools.
A comparative German/Japanese study


Joint project of two clusters of excellence, one at Freie Universität Berlin (“Languages of Emotion”) and one at Kyoto University (“Risk and Happiness”)


This project examines the construction of happiness in an intercultural comparison between Germany and Japan. Starting from the theses that the performative “acting out” of emotions takes on a variety of different aspects (cultural, institutional, collective, individual, etc.), and that emotional behavior is concentrated not only in individual gestures and body language, but also in the dramaturgical elements of how social interactions are played out, particularly during ritual performances, the focus of this ethnographic study is on the various (ritual) practices of happiness in two areas of socialization that are relevant from an education standpoint: families and schools. This study is being conducted by three German/Japanese teams in three German families and three Japanese families as well as at one elementary school in Berlin and one elementary school in Kyoto; in Germany, the study looks at Christmas, and in Japan its subject is the New Year celebrations. During the respective family celebrations, these families are observed to see what their expectations are with regard to happiness during the celebrations, how the members of the family enact family happiness, what situations of family happiness they create through their social behavior, and finally, how they experience happiness. In one case study, the project aims to define precisely which interactions the various family members act out, and what their effects are in terms of happiness on the social and personal levels. Then the experiences and expectations of happiness of children at two elementary schools, one each in Kyoto and Berlin, will be examined by the respective German/Japanese teams. The focus in this regard is on how children perceive happiness, for example in their shared activities with friends, successful classroom cooperation, and acknowledgement from peers and teachers. Methodological tools used include (video-supported) participatory observation, questionnaires, analyses of work, guideline-based interviews, and group discussions. This step will be followed by triangulation of the methods used and validation of the results within the individual teams and in the overall project team. The study’s research goal is to arrive at an understanding of the performative dynamics of emotional behavior expressing happiness in two different institutions and two different cultures, in order to establish a comparative view of the semantics of happiness, the forms in which it appears, and the processes associated with it.



Dr. Christoph Wulf, University Professor (Freie Universität Berlin)

Dr. Shoko Suzuki, University Professor (Kyoto University)



Dr. Jörg Zirfas, University Professor (Universität Erlangen-Nürnberg)

Dr. Toshio Kawai, University Professor (Kyoto University)

Dr. Ingrid Kellermann (Freie Universität Berlin)

Dr. Fumio Ono (Kyoto University)