Scaffolding imitation in capoeira

physical education and enculturation in an Afro-Brazilian Art

Greg Downey*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

46 Citations (Scopus)


Imitation plays a crucial role in apprenticeship in the Afro-Brazilian performance genre capoeira, as in many skills across cultures. In this article, I examine the interactional dynamics of imitative pedagogy in capoeira to better understand physical education as a form of bodily enculturation. The ability to learn through imitation is widely considered a hallmark of our species. Imitative ability, however, is a social accomplishment rather than a capacity of the learner in isolation. Human models often provide assistance to novices seeking to imitate, including a variety of forms of what educational theorists call "scaffolding," which are astutely structured to a novice's ability, perceptions, and even neurology. Scaffolding techniques vary. I here examine how instructors reduce students' degrees of movement freedom, reorient their model in perceptual space, and parse complex sequences into component gestures. Close analysis of pedagogical interaction highlights the divergence between forms of instruction and practical skills being taught.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)204-213
Number of pages10
JournalAmerican Anthropologist
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - Jun 2008

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