About the Author
Chelle Davison is Head of Department, Undergraduate ITE, in the Faculty of Education, Arts & Business at the University of Cumbria. The Department has over 450 trainees studying early years, primary, secondary and SEN initial teacher education. It is working towards Early Years Teacher Status for the 2015 cohorts and Chelle will be offering her own expertise both to the new applicants for 2014 and those from 2015 onwards through master classes and public lectures. In addition Chelle has made significant contribution to a range of policy documents and government reviews, and is a devoted supporter of the professionalisation of the Early Years workforce.
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Critical Approaches to the Early Years
By Monica Edwards
Critical Publishing LtdCopyright © 2015 Monica Edwards and Chelle Davison
All rights reserved.
An introduction to global perspectives of childhood
In order to handle the world with maximum competence it is necessary to consider the structure of things. It is necessary to become skilled in manipulating systems and in abstracting forms and patterns. This is a truth which, as a species, we have slowly come to know. If we were ever to renounce the activity, there would be a hefty price to pay.
(Donaldson, 1978, p 82)
This chapter examines the key themes that are explored within this book. It identifies the way the study of global childhoods has become an integral part of higher educational studies into childhoods as well as an important aspect of professional practice for those working with children and families. This chapter is divided into two parts:
1. key themes in studying childhoods from a global perspective;
2. examining different perspectives within this book.
The first logical question to consider here is: why study childhoods from a global perspective? A helpful start in answering such a question is to consider how studying childhoods from a global perspective informs your understanding and practice with children and families.
In the quote at the start of this chapter, Margaret Donaldson asserts that maximum competence within this world comes from understanding structures and that only by considering these structures does it become possible to manipulate and abstract form and patterns. This book explores social structures such as families, education, health, welfare and rights. It examines how the patterns of relationships between individuals, institutions and systems influence children's experiences of childhoods. For Donaldson, understanding the foundation structures of things supported the building of higher or intellectual thinking. Contemporary childhoods are not seen as a universal, singular experience but rather as multiple and diverse. Therefore the study of contemporary childhoods considers how the varied experiences of these social structures enable us to explore the ways childhoods are created and lived.
If this study of children and childhoods is to develop our practice, a series of questions arise. Consider your response to these.
* What structures should we consider in order to achieve a maximum competence in our practice with children and their families?
* What factors do you think influence these structures and therefore children's ability to manipulate them?
* What skills do children need in order to understand these structures?
* What skills will you need in order to understand these structures and abstract forms?
The complex web of social structures underpinning the world of adults and children is shaped by factors such as gender, race, class, history, economics and politics. The way these influence the interactions between structures, institutions and individuals has long been the subject of debate and argument. Prominent theories emerge, such as a Marxist influence on economic and political structural influences, or Bourdieu's influence on how these factors become embedded in the behaviours of individuals within these structures. In recent times, Margaret Archer's examination of the relationships between social structures and individuals (see Further Reading) has brought the relationship individuals have within these structures to the foreground. The relationships between individuals and the social structures they encounter form the basis of the social systems individuals occupy.
Studying childhoods employing ecological systems theory allows us to examine these social systems through the global networks found in contemporary society. Constraining the examination of these social structures and systems only to that which is familiar and known not only limits understanding of the complexity of the issues surrounding children and childhoods, it also reduces our ability to question these systems in depth. It also risks ignoring those whose experiences of these structures and systems are different (see Chapter 7). In answer to the question: why study childhoods from a global perspective? A suitable answer is: so that you might better understand what shapes childhoods and how you respond to that understanding in order to support individual children within your practice.
Key themes in studying childhoods from a global perspective
If studying childhoods from a global perspective enables us to better analyse the structures and systems that shape those childhoods, then the challenge lies in how best to engage in such a study. Two features fundamental to the study of global childhoods are to recognise the relationships between the social systems and structures and to reflect upon our own response to this. With regard to recognising the relationships between systems and structures, this book will employ the ecological systems theory. With regard to reflecting upon our own response to what analysing these relationships reveals, this book engages the principles of a non-ethnocentric approach to the study of global childhoods.
Ecological systems theory
Ecological systems theory supports analysis of how social structures and social systems interact to influence children's experiences of childhoods. Devised by developmental psychologist Urie Bronfenbrenner, the ecological systems theory (Bronfenbrenner, 1979) identifies five ecological systems that influence an individual child's development. While a child might interact directly with some of these systems, others have their influence without the child ever having direct contact with them. The child's health and gender will be essential aspects that determine how these systems are experienced. The systems are divided into the following.
Micro system: the system the child will have closest direct contact with and includes her/his relationship with institutions such as the family, school, places of worship and local community. The relationships children experience within families and settings are some of the earliest and most influential (see Chapter 7).
Meso system: the system in which micro level institutions interact with each other and are managed within the society. So the relationships between health and education settings and families can influence the experiences of children. In this sense, the relationship professionals have with families can be fundamental to childhood experiences.
Exo system: this is the first system the child will not directly experience, yet it influences his/her childhood. Within this system, structures exist which impact upon the institutions of the micro system. This means that decisions such as local access to health care, employment opportunities and funding of education institutions will affect the child without having any direct contact.
Macro system: this system considers how broader social, cultural, economic and political structures impact upon the child. The cultural and social values of this system influence the other systems. The experiences of children within a nation might differ significantly depending upon economic status, race, culture or religion. Therefore, decisions by national and international institutions of governance and economics, while far removed from the micro level experience, continue to be felt by the child.
Chrono system: the final system relates to the historical influences on children. These might be seen in the short term and relate to the time span of the child's or family's life. However, it also refers to the influence of longer-term historical influences (see Chapter 7 for a discussion of postcolonisation theory).
By using these systems to analyse childhoods from a global perspective, it is possible to explore the interactions between the systems and to compare the differences and similarities within and between nations. However, the ecological systems theory is not without its challenges.
The systems arguably position the child as passive within this process as they predominantly emphasise their impact upon the child. The interactions between these systems do recognise a two-way component, yet this tends to be limited to a reaction to the imposition of decisions and actions made by higher systems. Consequently, the decisions made by a government on educational spending define the reactions those inhabiting the micro system might have to those occupying the macro systems. The child, the family, the teacher are essentially positioned more as individuals who react to what occurs rather than active agents generating their own experiences (this is in some measure addressed within the exo system but it is also bound to remain within that system). Although difficult, there are times when children, as active agents, break through and disrupt these systems, generating and promoting their own ideas. From the examples of Malala Yousafzai, to the agency of Brazilian street working children and the children of sex workers in India (see Chapter 7), and the engagement of 16-year-olds in political debates in the recent Scottish referendum, children as active agents in the micro, meso and macro systems need to be recognised.
Another challenge is the significance placed on the universal elements of the systems. While children might share experiences within and across the systems, to what degree these generate a universal experience is worth exploring. If children are to be seen less as passive recipients and more as active agents then the individual experiences of children must be acknowledged. Social structures of race, class or gender might share similarities in experiences; however, these will be nuanced by the multiple experiences children have. For example, in Chapter 3, US children share with researchers their experiences of growing up in same-sex parented families. They express a desire that social stereotypes of their families or pressure to become poster children for same-sex parents does not restrict their abilities to reflect honestly upon their experiences. Clearly, the use of ecological systems theory has value in supporting analysis of global childhoods, yet it is not without its limitations.
* Use Bronfenbrenner's ecological systems theory to analyse how the different systems might have influenced your childhood?
* Compare that with an analysis of how these systems might influence a child in your care?
* What, in your opinion, are the advantages and limitations of using the theory in this way?
* As a result of this, how can you utilise this theory in your analysis of global childhoods?
Non-ethnocentrism and the study of global childhoods
In order to analyse the meaning and implications of non-ethnocentrism, it is necessary to examine what the term ethnocentrism means. Ethnocentrism describes a judgement made of other cultures from one's own perspective. Whether consciously or unconsciously those from the cultural in-group are judged as inherently superior; while those from outside the in-group are judged as deficient and lacking in comparison. LeVine and Campbell (1972) are generally credited with providing a comprehensive system of defining the role and results of ethnocentrism in inter-ethnic relations between cultural groups. However, the term predates this and has been used within anthropological studies since the turn of the twentieth century. The characteristic of judging and finding other cultural groups to be lacking against a standard, which has been defined within one's own cultural group, has been recognised as a universal tendency. However, it has perhaps had its greatest impact in Western and European approaches to non-Western cultures, seen most devastatingly in Western colonialism (see Chapter 7 for an analysis of colonialism and postcolonisation theory). The way in which children learn about culture through a process of inclusion within the group is a defining requisite of all societies. It encompasses not only all aspects of life but, as Kottak (1994) proposes, is so interconnected that if one cultural element within the group changes it will resonate upon the others. The principle behind ethnocentrism lies in creating a single, fixed and unifying in-group identity through exclusion and hostility to other cultural groups.
However, this generalising of ethnocentrism does not reflect the full variations it takes; a greater degree of subtlety in recognising the various forms is necessary in order to support self-reflection. The premise that in-group preference exists through devaluing the out-group cultures, as LeVine and Campbell (1972) suggest, reflects a classic ethnocentrism. Raden (2003) suggests a more subtle range of ethnocentrism is evident through in-group bias which rates one's own culture as higher than others but which does not equate favourable in-group bias with negative out-group judgements. So both in-group and out-group judgements might be negative but the in-group is judged less negatively than the out-group.
There are two reasons for examining the premise of ethnocentrism: first in respect to the way we approach the study of childhoods from a cross-cultural perspective and second, and most significantly, the implications for practice with children and families. When analysing research from a global perspective, taking an ethnocentric stance means the value of what can be learnt from studying different cultural experiences of childhoods will be lost, overshadowed by a prejudgement that finds the actions of families and institutions lacking. Within practice, ethnocentrism results not only in devaluing the heritage of children and families from different cultural groups but also in silencing voices from groups on the grounds that they do not reflect the cultural values within an institution. This not only risks failing to listen and learn from other cultural groups, but it also risks the marginalisation of groups who feel judged as lacking within the institution.
If this is to be avoided then an alternative approach needs to be considered. Cultural relativism suggests an answer lies in being able to understand and respect another cultural group's values and ideas. Introduced by anthropologist Franz Boas, cultural relativism offers a means to recognise that there is no single developmental route for all cultural groups. Boas argued that if individuals view the world from their own cultural perspective, understanding comes from recognising and learning from cultural difference rather than through measuring other cultures against one's own. However, this is not without challenges and limitations any less troubling than that of ethnocentrism. As Sanders (2009) discusses, cultural relativism's risks lie in the extremes. If cultural relativism is to be carried to its extreme conclusions then much harm is risked. If cultural groups are to be measured only against their own values and not that of others, it becomes impossible to achieve a foundation of values which would challenge the belief in child witches, slavery, female genital mutilation or any other practices which might be argued as cultural norms within groups. These extremes are frequently cited for their obvious impact as extremes; however, the boundaries between acceptable and unacceptable cultural norms present challenges.
If you are to critically analyse global research into children's experiences, the challenge lies in considering what values are to be used in order to analyse the actions of cultural groups in the research studies. Within your practice the ability to measure where the boundaries between acceptable and unacceptable cultural practices lie sets a challenge between balancing ethnocentrism against cultural relativism.
Taking a non-ethnocentric approach, while in no way providing an easy answer to the challenges of ethnocentrism and extreme cultural relativism, does suggest the need to tread a path between these conflicting ideas. These challenges are presented not only to students engaging in cross-cultural studies and to practitioners working with children and families in contemporary culturally and socially diverse communities, they are also challenges that large international organisations such as the United Nations must face. In creating and implementing a set of universal rights for children across the world, the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) presents a vehicle by which a non-ethnocentric approach might be guided (see Chapter 5 for an examination of the UNCRC). While this is not a definitive answer it does provide a starting point to support self-reflection upon your own cultural values and ideas. Taking a non-ethnocentric approach does not mean denying one's own cultural identity and values, nor does it mean taking a purely objective approach to the study of global childhoods (if such objectivity were to be considered possible), rather it tasks one to examine one's own cultural values and to approach the analysis of cross-cultural studies with an awareness of what can be learnt to support one's own knowledge and practice.
Excerpted from Global Childhoods by Monica Edwards. Copyright © 2015 Monica Edwards and Chelle Davison. Excerpted by permission of Critical Publishing Ltd.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents
ContentsMeet the series editor and author,
Preface: introduction to critical thinking,
1 An introduction to global perspectives of childhood,
2 What is childhood?,
3 Families and parenting,
4 International views on education,
5 Children's rights and children's needs,
6 Children's health and welfare,
7 Global inequalities and children,
8 Global research and the construction of childhoods,