Learning Nation in early childhood education: Multi-sited comparison between pedagogies of nation in Australia and Hungary

Year: 2019

Author: Millei, Zsuzsa, Lappalainen, Sirpa

Type of paper: Abstract refereed

Education plays a crucial role in the reproduction of nation, which process gains new significance in our contemporary context of rising nationalism and populism around the globe. There are numerous studies about how curricula and official school rituals seek to assert the primacy of national community in children’s thinking, beings and feelings. Another form of nationalism, however, often remains imperceptible to our critical gaze permeating the daily routines and mundane spaces of everyday life. This form of nationalism is termed ‘everyday nationalism’ and refers to the implicit ways in which the nation underpins the everyday life of schools and societies manifesting “customary” national ways of being and acting, national discourses, practices and material environments. This paper presentation brings these invisible practices into sight in young children’s institutional lives in a unique comparative study. Nationalism in early childhood education institutions - the first contexts in which children are socialised into society - has remained a rarely investigated field, and even less so through comparative ethnography. We explore how the nation is being taught and enacted in early childhood educational settings located in Australia and Hungary. The former is a settler colonial liberal democratic nation on its own continent, whereas the latter is a post-socialist Eastern European country, with seven neighbour states all of them having a Hungarian minority. Drawing on sociomaterial perspectives, we analyse ethnographic data utilising a multi-sited comparison methodology. The ethnographer (Millei) alternated between the ethnographic sites between 2014 and 2017 which helped to identify organising patterns and their characteristics, and possible units of comparison. Here we describe one such unit, the ‘pedagogy of nation’, referring to pedagogical practices performed by human or non-human teachers, such as environment, objects, space or emotions. ‘Pedagogy of nation’ is present in institutions’ daily structuring, routines, rules, norms, the creation of the material environment or sanctioned ways of expressing and feeling emotions. Our analysis shows that the ‘pedagogy of nation’ operates in different ways in these two countries. In Australia, it draws on contemporary patterns of lifestyle whereas in Hungary it reinvigorates past traditions and morals within contemporary global flows of culture. By taking a look at these processes we aim to raise awareness to the need to critically engage with these seemingly innocent tropes, practices, feelings and atmospheres that are part of preschool life.