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Author ORCID Identifier


Open Access Dissertation

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Degree Program


Year Degree Awarded


Month Degree Awarded


First Advisor

Janice M. Irvine

Second Advisor

Donald Tomaskovic-Devey

Third Advisor

Sara Whitcomb

Subject Categories

Educational Sociology | Theory, Knowledge and Science


This dissertation provides a historical and cultural analysis of a school-based approach social and emotional learning (SEL) in the United States. Over the past two decades, SEL has risen from relative obscurity to become a formidable educational movement in the United States and around the world. Its core claim, that schools should be actively involved in the cultivation of children’s emotional selves, has gained tremendous currency. I draw on popular and social scientific writing, state social and emotional learning standards, and SEL curricula to demonstrate the reconfiguration of emotion as central to the competence schools are supposed to develop. While American public schools have always addressed “more than academics,” I show how contemporary SEL is built upon popularized social knowledge that sees emotion as a set of individualized, standardized, and measurable skills. I analyze the practices of emotional competence that comprise this understanding of emotion, as well as the pedagogical practices employed to teach them to children. I argue that SEL signals the institutionalization of a new definition of the competent self, one that rests on the abilities of individuals to identify, monitor, regulate, and use feelings in prescribed ways.