Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Graduate Group

History and Sociology of Science

First Advisor

John Tresch


“The Choreography of Everyday Life: Rudolf Laban and the Making of Modern Movement,” explores how an inscription technology developed in German expressionist dance found unlikely application in some of the key institutions of twentieth-century modernity. Called “Labanotation,” it used a complicated symbology to record human bodily movement on paper. Initially used to coordinate mass-dance spectacles in Weimar Germany, the system was quickly adopted in the United States and the United Kingdom in fields ranging from management theory to psychiatry to anthropology. My research analyzes the widespread appeal of this seemingly quixotic tool and to situates it within broader literatures on modern technology, art, media, and politics. Ultimately, I argue that Labanotation succeeded so spectacularly because it promised to reconcile the invented and the authentic, the individual and the group, and the body and the machine at moments threatened by massive social upheaval. Laban’s work thus not only served to preserve a fading past, but opened up new possibilities for the literal choreographing of modern life.

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