Whitney Laemmli (PhD 2016) has won the prize for best dissertation from the Forum for the History of Human Sciences in the History of Science Society.

Here is the citation from the prize committee:

2016 Dissertation Prize: Whitney Laemmli, “The Choreography of Everyday Life: Rudolf Laban and the Making of Modern Movement,” University of Pennsylvania (2016)

2016 Dissertation Prize Committee:  Dennis Bryson, Susan Lamb, Joy Rohde (chair)

In “The Choreography of Everyday Life,” Whitney Laemmli follows Labanotation—an inscription technology originally designed to record bodily movements in dance—from its origins in Weimar Germany through its surprising manifestations in the U.S. human sciences in the second half of the twentieth century. Developed by Hungarian choreographer Rudolf Laban in the 1920s, Labanotation was originally created to record and preserve the ephemeral movements of dancers in a standardized symbolic language. But because it promised to use the visible movement of bodies to reveal the invisible content of human psyches, scholars from fields ranging from corporate management to psychology to folklore found it a valuable research tool. In the hands of management consultants, Labanotation became a device for reading prospective employees’ body language and identifying the ideal corporate citizen. Psychologists drew on the method to lay bare the maladies of damaged, uncommunicative minds and rehabilitate them through movement therapy. And anthropologists and folklorists used Labanotation to reveal the traces of human migration and cultural origins hidden in the dance movements of ethnic minorities endangered by the culturally oppressive modern world. The committee was particularly impressed by the scope and depth of Laemmli’s analysis. As she ranges across Labanotation’s unexpected multi-disciplinary career, she attends carefully to its sociopolitical implications. In particular, she explores the tensions between individual agency and social harmony, autonomy and surveillance, freedom and control that Labanotation’s users sought to reconcile through their efforts to choreograph modern life. The result is an insightful and strikingly original dissertation that calls attention to the persistence of the body and embodiment as salient factors in the twentieth century human sciences.