Vilkår for barns medvirkning i fellesskap i barnehagen
The purpose of this dissertation is to gain knowledge of children's participation in community in ECEC. Research shows that children's participation often is seen with an individual focus, leading to an underrepresentation of the collective perspective (Emilson & Johansson, 2017). The theoretical foundation of the thesis is based on Habermas' (1984) communicative action theory. Habermas is often associated with the second generation of the Frankfurter School, thus also seen as a supporter of critical theory. Of particular interest to me in this thesis, is the holistic perspectives that Habermas suggests, through his life world and system thinking, as well as his perspectives on communicative and strategic rationality.
Study 1, an interpretation of the children's perspective, examines what the children describe as hallmarks influencing their ability to participate in the ECEC community. Study 2 examines the kind of communication patterns that occur in the interactions between the educator and the child, how these influence children’s opportunities to participate in ECEC, and how we can understand the priorities in the communication between the children and staff from a lifeworld and system perspective. Study 3 examines educators’ descriptions of participation, interpreted from a community perspective. Finally, a concluding analysis was conducted, focusing on identifying those key terms for participation in community that had emerged in the three studies, and which was discussed from a social perspective.
Habermas' communicative theory of action emphasis that educational processes take place at the intersection of the individuals and the society, between the lifeworld and the system. In addition, Biesta's (2007) thoughts on democracy. His central message is that everyone has the opportunity to appear as a free-acting subject in community with others. Methodologically, the dissertation has a qualitative hermeneutic approach. It consists of group interviews with 5-year-olds, video observations of the children and staff, and individual interviews with staff in three selected ECEC institutions. The focus of the analyses has been on descriptions and interpretations of the opinions expressed, based on three steps: 1) meaning condensation, 2) meaning categorisation, and 3) meaning interpretation.
In the summary analysis, community orientation, trust, and acceptance of inequality were identified as central conditions for participation in community in ECEC. This encompassed being oriented towards the good of the community. The staff adopted practices that promoted the opportunity for the children to come forward with their own initiatives and to continue other initiatives in the community. It also involved an orientation towards building trust in relationships, and in the children as contributors in the community. This practice mainly required a communicative intention, though reflecting on how strategic intentions behind the actions also can be seen as rational for democratic practices in some cases, where it is for the good of the community. It emerged that there was a need for staff and children to be oriented towards safeguarding – and accepting – inequalities. In certain situations, this practice required setting aside some of one’s own needs and initiatives, so that others, with different initiatives and perspectives, could get the opportunity to step forwards and participate in the community.
The dissertation identifies tensions that can affect participation in the community. Among other things, tensions related to the system are discussed, with regard to the staff’s orientation towards their own goals and intentions about control, and the learning of specialist knowledge and skills, as such an orientation may prevent children's subjectification from a lifeworld perspective. It is also discussed whether rules and norms can create tensions between the life world and the system. The system, in the form of institutional structures, and efficiency requirements as a measure of calm and order, or group sizes, can influence the lifeworld perspective, and thereby the conditions of community orientation, trust and acceptance of inequalities. The dissertation's results can contribute to a greater understanding of participation from a community perspective, and of how one can facilitate participation in community by meeting the conditions for community orientation, trust and acceptance of inequalities in ECEC.