In October 2021, the BERA Children and Childhoods special interest group (SIG) organised the webinar Transforming Childhoods’ Relationships, sharing seven doctoral research studies to explore the theme of the relational child. The relational child is a reconfiguration of the child as ever emerging through personal and systemic relationships. This concept challenges dominant figurations of childhood that view children as not yet fully human, innocent and fragile rather than ‘part of the worlds they inhabit’ (Murris, 2016). Bringing together images focusing on the relational aspects of childhood in our doctoral studies, we used collaging (Culshaw, 2019) as a material and visual methodology to explore the complexities and messiness of the relational child. As Vaughan (2005, p. 27) notes, ‘collage… accommodates multiple texts and visuals in a single work… that values multiple distinctive understandings and that deliberately incorporates nondominant modes of knowing’.
Figure 1: Images that focus on relational aspects of childhoodSeveral individual snapshots (see images) focusing on a relational aspect of childhood – nature, play, classroom, technology, family – were chosen by researchers working with children and childhood. Focusing on child/nature encounters in an outdoor early years’ setting, Hannah and the children she is co-researching with, explore how human and non-human relations emerge during outdoor play. The image she shared showed children shrieking with joy, muddy boots splashing in puddles, with sunlight reflecting trees highlighting the inseparability of childhood and nature.
Sarra’s research explores how child-constructed narratives enable refugee and non-refugee children to describe their perspectives and experiences in an Algerian classroom setting. Her image depicts a child’s drawing of their location in a classroom in contrast to an adult’s drawn classroom plan. The study captures the nature and complexities of refugees’ relational experiences and reinforces that acknowledging children’s perspectives can aid integration among refugee children in classrooms.
Elisabeth’s research explores the meaning and practices of parental engagement in International Baccalaureate schools in Athens, Greece. Dynamic relationships between parents, school, educators and children are redefined. The image shows two children holding hands in an open, interactive museum space, with the parent/photographer facilitating this child-led engagement with a piece of art.
Mariam’s research explores the development of young children’s fine motor skills in early years settings in England and Lebanon. Her image highlights children learning to make taboulleh, a traditional Middle Eastern salad, and the ways in which experimental and practical pedagogies enliven learning. Through the assemblage of salad ingredients, children and practitioner knowledge is co-created.
Fadoua provided home-educated adolescents the opportunity to explore how they experience their educational journey using participatory research methods. The image she shared was chosen by her participant to represent a fragment of his vlog depicting a video game which he felt would not be valued or considered educational in traditional schooling systems. Technology has enabled him to enjoy his education and given him access to different learning methods that suit his learning style and ability.
Mitali’s research looks at aspects of digital technology as mediator of parental engagement and learning in the family, especially in the context of the Asian Indian immigrant parents in England. The image shows the mother guiding and explaining some digital content to the child while keeping a close eye on the child’s activity. It focuses on the dichotomy between the parental desire for their children to develop digital competence and their fear that technology is risking children’s wellbeing. Strategies are crucial to support parental relations with technology in the post-pandemic world.
‘Strategies are crucial to support parental relations with technology in the post-pandemic world.’
Joy’s silhouetted image depicts the uncertainty children feel when needing support because known individuals can violate trust. Groomers – that is, people who interact with children to prepare them for exploitation – intentionally become known in their victim’s community to develop a persona of trustworthiness. Conversely, strangers are not always dangerous and can be supportive, safe and helpful. This research repositions children as ‘rich, resourceful and resilient’ (Dahlberg et al., 2013) and argues that children need empowering relationships where they can express uncertainty to stay safe from harm.
Image by Hannah Hogarth, Joy Cranham & Mitali Dutta
Collaging, cutting out parts of our images and putting them together, is a knowledge-creating process which provokes us to think of the ways these emergent, complex and dynamic relationships relate to one another. The collage depicted in this blog challenges the idea that children and childhoods are universal or homogeneous. Bringing together elements of individual images highlights how childhoods make, and are made by, entangled and complex relationships. As these relationships are constantly transforming, so are childhoods and the children living through them. Collaging research encourages us to be vigilant against imposing adult understandings of childhood in our research and practice. Bringing together different representations of children’s relationships highlights the dynamic fluidity that we as researchers work within. These snippets of research do not create a completed collage, rather we hope they encourage others to contribute to the ongoing understandings of children and childhoods.
Culshaw, S. (2019). The unspoken power of collage? Using an innovative arts-based research method to explore the experience of struggling as a teacher. London Review of Education, 17(3), 268–283. https://doi.org/10.18546/LRE.17.3.03
Dahlberg, G., Moss, P., & Pence, A. (2013). Beyond quality in early childhood education and care (3rd ed.). Routledge.
Murris, K. (2016). The posthuman child. Routledge.
Vaughan, K. (2005). Pieced together: Collage as an artist’s method for interdisciplinary research. International journal of qualitative methods, 4(1), 27–52. https://doi.org/10.1177/160940690500400103