Young children enacting governance: Child's play?

Year: 2005

Author: Cobb, Charlotte, Danby, Susan, Farrell, Ann

Type of paper: Refereed paper

Schools, homes and communities are increasingly perceived as risky spaces for children. This concern is a driving force behind many forms of governance imposed upon Australian children by well-meaning adults. Children are more and more the subjects of both overt and covert regulation by teachers and other adults in school contexts. Are children, though, passive in this process of governance? It is this issue that is the focus of this paper. In order to respond to the question of how young children enact governance in their everyday lives, video-recorded episodes of naturally occurring interactions among children in a preparatory classroom were captured. These data were then transcribed and analysed using the methods of conversation analysis and membership categorisation analysis. This paper shows a number of strategies that the children used when enacting governance within their peer cultures in the classroom. These were: manipulating materials and places so as to regulate each other's actions in the interactive play space; developing or drawing on adult and child-formulated rules and social orders of the classroom in order to control and govern their peers' interactions; using verbal and non-verbal language to regulate the actions of those around them; and finally, creating membership categories to exclude or include others and thereby govern the behaviour of members in the area. This paper illustrates that children are not passive in enacting governance, but actively and competently enact governance through their peer cultures. These findings are significant for educators to consider, as they help to develop an understanding of the complex social orders that children are continually constructing in the early childhood classroom.