Participation beyond observation: Implications for doing child research

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The past decades of child research have seen a rising number of practice-based studies which investigate the children’s perspectives on a multitude of everyday life phenomena. Researchers accompany children around and across contexts, become part of their sociomaterial interactions with peers, caretakers and others. These studies undoubtedly contribute to better understanding the relevance of specific practices for the children, through uncovering struggles and dilemmas the children face on a daily basis and pointing to possibilities for purposefully transforming these practices. Meanwhile, however, the researchers typically uphold the notion that all they methodically engage in is participant observation.
The paper argues that important aspects of children’s living and understanding may be lost when considering them mere objects of one’s visual and verbal research practices. First I delve into empirical material from my own participatory study in a daycare center in order to discuss how the child researcher ineluctably contributes to co-arranging the children’s lives under scrutiny and thereby the respective study’s insights. Then I draw on Svend Brinkmann & Lene Tanggaard’s critique of an occularcentric epistemology so as to propose a participatory child research practice that systematically considers all sensorial experiences as valuable for learning from each other. Finally I suggest that such an epistemological reformulation not only has methodological implications by questioning the focus on investigating children’s perspectives through participant observation, but also ontological and political ones.
Original languageEnglish
Publication date2014
Publication statusPublished - 2014
EventConference on Childhood Studies: Values of Childhood and Childhood Studies - University of Oulu, Oulu, Finland
Duration: 7 May 20149 May 2014 (Link to cenference)


ConferenceConference on Childhood Studies
LocationUniversity of Oulu
Internet address

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