Negotiating and Creating Intercultiiral Relations: Chinese Immigrant Children in New Zealand Early Childhood Education Centres

By Guo, Karen; Dalli, Carmen | Australasian Journal of Early Childhood, September 2012 | Go to article overview

Negotiating and Creating Intercultiiral Relations: Chinese Immigrant Children in New Zealand Early Childhood Education Centres


Guo, Karen, Dalli, Carmen, Australasian Journal of Early Childhood


Introduction

This paper explores particular forms of intercultural relations that occurred for a group of Chinese immigrant children attending their first early childhood centre in New Zealand. We define intercultural relations as interactional phenomena such as language and other social practices that enable the co-existence of different cultures and cultural tools within a given setting. Through analysing examples of the children's negotiations and creation of relations between their family culture and the culture of their early childhood centre, we argue that the presence or absence of Chinese-speaking peers and adults played a pivotal role in mediating intercultural relations. The analysis reveals a picture of the Chinese children as agentic and strategic drivers of their own learning.

Culture and cultural relations

In this study we use the term 'culture' to refer to those aspects of the social environment that are taken for granted by those who share the environment: customs, ways of being and acting and, in particular, a shared language. Tomasello (1999) suggested that culture is 'the species-typical and species-unique "ontogenetic niche" for human development' (p. 79). Thus, cultural learning involves comprehending 'how "we" use the artefacts and practices of our culture--what they are "for"' (p. 91). Within a cultural environment, people identify with others and this tendency provides the social and cognitive basis of their culture (Kruger & Tomasello, 1998). Focusing specifically on the relationship between culture and people, Kruger and Tomasello explained that the two are mutually dependent: they shape and are shaped by each other.

Within a sociocultural framework, culture incorporates three key components: cultural tools, mediation and social relationships (Cole & Gajdamaschko, 2007; Leontyev, 1981). Vygotksy and Leontyev both argued that one's association with an environment is a mediated process (Lantolf, 2000) for which social relationships provide the context and where learning occurs through such cultural tools as language. As Wertsch and Tulviste (1996) have pointed out, cultural tools and mediators are the most crucial contributors to human functioning.

Wadham, Pudsey and Boyd (2007) used the concept of culture as a 'toolbox' for dealing with situations in life, to create being, living, behaving and learning. In all cases, the tools in the 'toolbox' consist of symbols, language, values, beliefs, norms, rituals and material objects (p. 6).

In recent times, theoretical discussions associated with culture have been characterised by the movement to a more contextually based perspective. Drawing on a range of cross-cultural studies, Rogoff (2003) clearly identified huge variations in people's practices and expectations across cultural communities. For Cole, 'culture is synonymous with cultural differences' (1998, p. 11). Cole's (1988; 1998; 2005) view is based on a strong belief that life experiences are extremely context-specific, and therefore should be understood in line with the contexts in which they occur. This point is key to understanding cultural relations as they occur in early childhood educational settings.

Focusing on metaphors about cultural relations in countries with migrant populations, Gobbo (2009) wrote that, when different cultures are brought together, there is a need to 'valorize diversity and at the same time to underline what is common between migrants and the host population, namely culture' (p. 322). This shift of focus away from differences of culture to viewing culture as a phenomenon that characterises all people assumes a particular ontological framework, which Slife (2004) called 'relational ontology', where everyone or everything is a nexus of relations.

From a sociocultural perspective of the learner-culture connection, cultural relations can be seen to contribute to learning by providing a context for two different cultures, thus creating a dual meditational process which one could call an intercultural phenomenon. …

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