Academic journal article Gender & Behaviour

'My Journey to School': Photovoice Accounts of Rural Children's Everyday Experiences in Lesotho

Academic journal article Gender & Behaviour

'My Journey to School': Photovoice Accounts of Rural Children's Everyday Experiences in Lesotho

Article excerpt

The study presented in this article used photovoice as a research tool to explore the journey to school undertaken by children in a rural context. Twelve children (male = 6; female = 6) from three different rural villages in Lesotho participated in the study. A photographic technique, where children were entrusted with disposable cameras to act as recorders of salient places and spaces of their school journey was employed. Based on children's photographs, individual and focus group interviews were conducted to engage children in dialogue and discussion about the challenges, risks and pleasurable aspects of their school journey. The findings indicate that children travelled long distances, crossing flooded rivers and dense forests in pursuit of access to education. They also denote how children attached complex emotions (of fear and admiration) to school journey spaces in ways that indicate both the negative psychological trauma that the harsh school journey terrain had on children, and the pleasures that children experienced as they creatively traverse their school journey. Drawing on their social identities (as girls and boys) and the dominant discourses of sexuality in their local contexts, the children tactfully used agency to navigate the obstacles of their school journey. The immediacy of visual image helps in highlighting how actively involving children in choosing what aspects of their lives they wish to share in a research project, could become a potential catalyst for policy and social action aimed at improving the schooling experiences of rural children.

KEY WORDS: Photovoice, agency, emotional geographies, children's geographies, school journey, Lesotho

Social science research over the last three decades has given recognition to the view that childhood is culturally and socially rather than biologically constructed (James & Prout, 1990; Jenks, 1996; Mayall, 2002; Prout, 2004). Prior to these debates emanating from social constructionist critique, developmental psychology was the key framework for theorising child development (Young & Barrett, 2001). These shifting views on the study of childhood are located in theoiy on the sociology of childhood and New Childhood Studies that recognise children's agency in the construction of their own identities (Christensen & James, 2000). The focus in New Childhood Studies is to seeing children as active social agents who shape the structures and processes around them, and whose social relationships are worthy of study in their own right (Corsaro, 2005; Prout, 2004). These conceptualisations align with the principles embedded in the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC, 1989) that foreground the idea that children are not passive objects but competent agents and social actors who shape their own identities (Christensen & Prout, 2002; James & Prout 1997; Mayall, 2002).

The field of New Childhood studies has also had a significant impact on how childhood and children are researched. There has been a shift from conducting research on children to research with and by children (Gallagher, 2008). Such a focus foregrounds the view that children are 'meaning producing' members of society in their own right (Young & Barrett, 2001: 141). Thus, children are understood as social actors and experts in their own lives, they have a right to participate in research that aims to make their lives visible (Moss, 2001). They need to be listened to and viewed as competent partners in research rather than objects of study (Keilet, 2005; Skànfors, 2009).

The study presented in this article drew its theoretical underpinnings from the above debates within the new sociology of childhood. We took the view that children have agency and are capable of reflecting upon and making meanings about issues that concern them. Further, we acknowledged that children have the potential to be active researchers in their own right and should be afforded opportunities to have their voices heard. …

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