fredag 1. desember 2017

The significance of children`s nonverbal social repertoire

My ph.d.-thesis examines social life as it unfolds at micro level between children under three years of age in Norwegian kindergartens. It describes and discusses the significance of children`s nonverbal social repertoire, but also sees this in relation to the framework institutions provide for the development of such repertoire. It is thus a description of how children explore and try out different ways of being social in an institutional context before verbal language is fully established. The term social refers not only to children in their relationships with other children or adults, but also in their relationships with objects, rooms and places.

The project leans on previous research on toddlers using a phenomenological life-world approach, but also more recent post-human perspectives. The social repertoire should not be perceived as child-child or child-thing relations in isolation. Instead, it is connected to cultural normative expectations as they are expressed in the institutional framework and adult educational intentions. The project has thus drawn inspiration from two research-traditions: the pedagogical and formative-oriented tradition, and the sociological- culture-theoretical tradition, and it further develops a dialectical understanding of subjectification in an eclectic theoretical landscape. The way the social, physical and cultural environment forms the subject is influenced by the same subject`s way of performing its social agency. 

The project is an ethnographic work based on observations of two kindergarten groups for children between one and three years of age. A phenomenological analytical approach was used. The fieldwork took place during different periods between Spring 2014 and Spring 2015, and it developed composite data material consisting of field notes and videos focusing on child-child interplay in free situations. It was distinctly micro-ethnographic since it was primarily the small details in face-to-face relationships that were analysed. The phenomenological approach emphasises how children's life worlds can be seen as the places that exist between their selves and other children, adults, things and spaces where meaning, self-awareness and social events are continually created.

The thesis is built around four different articles in which different theoretical perspectives are used. The four articles are:
·       De yngste barna og tingene deres – en ANT-analyse av lek i småbarnsavdelinger
·        Social life among toddlers in kindergarten as communicative musicality
·        The flow of play among toddlers in kindergarten
·        Relasjoner mellom små barn i spenningen mellom private og offentlige rom

In the summary article, three of the theoretical perspectives are more thoroughly discussed in order to look for a common ontological basis – with particular attention paid to Merleau-Ponty's phenomenology. These are: the theory of communicative musicality, Actor-Network-Theory (ANT) and Hannah Arendt`s concept of human action.

It is concluded that the young child's nonverbal social repertoire manifests itself firstly as different ways of being connected to objects. This way, the child can become an extension of the properties of objects, but also make objects an extension of their own intentional body in the room. In each case, children are connected to each other by objects. Second, they use the sound and rhythm of things, voice or body to create shared experiences of meaning through various unanimous expressions, but also to take new initiatives within the room. What characterises both these repertoires is firstly that verbal language and, for that matter, reflection, play a subordinate role in opposition to their immediate physical presence in the room. Second, it shows how important children's abilities to respond to each other's initiatives and invitations are, but also how inevitable interruptions and disturbances seem to be apparent in the children's particular manner of being together. This is indicative of the particular institutional context in which this repertoire is developed and used.

Towards the end, I pay critical attention to the kindergarten`s educational ambitions and culture of strict discipline. The question is whether enough room has been provided to unfold children's nonverbal social repertoire, or whether it is suppressed too frequently in order to ensure peace, order and educational progress.

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