Academic journal article Australasian Journal of Early Childhood

Finding a Voice for Child Participants within Doctoral Research: Experiences from the Field

Academic journal article Australasian Journal of Early Childhood

Finding a Voice for Child Participants within Doctoral Research: Experiences from the Field

Article excerpt

Grown-ups never understand anything for themselves, and it is tiresome for children to be always and forever explaining things to them.

--de Saint Exupery, A. (2000)


Documenting the possibilities and choices for individual doctoral candidates regarding involving children as researchers is an important step in illuminating the specific roles, responsbilities, research orientations and methodologies inherent in these inquiry-based decisions. In the literature, there are four generally-acknowledged perspectives on seeing children and childhood within research: child as object, child as subject, child as social actor, and child as participant or co-participant (Alderson, 2008; Christensen & Prout, 2002: Christensen & James, 2008)

Notwithstanding the perspective, most significant is the clear methodological implications aligned with each of the four orientations. For example, the traditional perspective (child as object) is aligned with methodological design that 'reflects a genuine, if often paternalistic, desire to protect children as essentially incompetent or vulnerable beings' (Christensen & Prout, 2002, p. 480). Conversely, the child as social actor perspective positions children as equal and active participants within the methodological design and research process (Thorne, 1993). Although these four perspectives often coexist alongside each other, there is generally an alignment between the perspective adopted and the research traditions of specific paradigms. Certainly, developmental psychology (and child developmental discourse in particular in which the field of early childhood education is rooted) have most commonly 'interpreted children's situations, behaviour, feelings and thoughts in terms of theories and hypothesis' (Woodhead & Faulkner, 2008, p. 11) with methodological designs and processes controlled by the researcher and not the children themselves. And despite trends of 'deconstructing' and 'reconstructing' the image of the child and childhood within early childhood education (Cannella, 2002a; Cannella 2002b; Taguchi, 2007) and the affirmation of child agency within research processes (James & Prout, 1990), I would argue that the doctoral researcher adherence to the paradigm and culture of a research institution often undermines the flexibility of the individual to challenge the status quo and pursue a perspective on seeing children and childhood that is contextually meaningful and holistic (Greig, Taylor, & MacKay, 2007). Thus, negotiating any role for the child's voice within doctoral research can be daunting.

In this paper, I will revisit the discursive approaches that are possible when engaging in research with and alongside young children, exploring the value of including the child participant as well as several considerations and provisions that should be carefully deliberated. This discussion is framed by a description of some of the methodological decisions I made as a doctoral student, as well as the institutional constraints which impacted on the research project that sought young siblings' perceptions and experiences with teasing within their relationship. In brief, the context of the naturalistic study involved home visits with three dyads of preschool-age siblings and their mothers over a five-month period in a city in eastern Canada. Through observations and conversations with the participants, I sought the 'lived' perspective of sibling teasing (for a complete discussion of the research and findings see Harwood, 2008a and Harwood, 2008b).

Continuum of orientations for including children as researchers

In research, who should speak for children? The answer to this question is complex and dependent on one's view of the child. The perception of the child as vulnerable and in need of protection aligns with a traditional 'child as object' orientation to research (Christensen & Prout, 2002). …

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