Academic journal article Gender & Behaviour

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

Academic journal article Gender & Behaviour

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

Article excerpt


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 theory 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 (Kellet, 2005; Skânfors, 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. The study explored how rural children experience the journey to school, and the meanings they make of the spaces and places that are central to their journey.

Our key concern was how to maximise children's participation in the study, and what research methods could we use to empower them as active researchers. In this regard, we were influenced by emerging literature in South Africa and internationally on visual methodologies (for example, Mitchell, DeLange, Moletsane, Stuart & Buthelezi, 2005; Jean-Paul Umurungi, Mitchell, Gervais, Ubalijoro & Kabarenzi, 2008; Findholt, Michael & Davis, 2010). Our review of this literature pointed us to the potential of photovoice as a participatory research tool in child research. Photovoice is located in feminist theory and is an unobtrusive and empowering approach to research (Wilkin & Liamputtong, 2010). The principles of feminist theory suggest that issues of a group can best be studied and understood by people within that particular group, and that meanings and discovery are best promoted through the sharing of mutual experience (Keller & Longino, 1996).

Improvement in children's (and especially girls') access to education in subSaharan Africa is a key Millennium Development Goal and has prompted substantial research over the last decade. In Lesotho this culminated in the implementation of Free Primary Education in 2000 (Morojele, 2011a) which aimed to alleviate the obstacles such as payment of school fees that prevented children from low social-economic family backgrounds from accessing formal education (Ministry of Education, Lesotho, 2005). …

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