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Visual methods, objects and material culture in early childhood

Elizabeth Wood Cathy Nutbrown Dylan Yamada-Rice Lisa Procter

This Innovation Session that took place at BERA took the form of a workshop/masterclass in researching early childhood using visual methodologies, combining presentations, graffiti and Information Experience Design techniques in innovative ways. The aims were: to consider Visual Methods for exploring, analyzing and representing different forms of data, specifically researching with and through objects (Nutbrown, 2011; Claisse and Yamada-Rice); to explore theories of the dialectical relationship between objects and material culture (Miller, 2009; Procter, 2013) and to experience different methods for exploring the everyday in innovative ways .

The narratives draw on themes that are personal, temporal, cultural, emotional

This session drew on several research projects led by members of the Centre for Research in Early Childhood Education at the University of Sheffield, who are combining Social Sciences and Arts-based methodologies in innovative ways. We use a selection of objects to explore how these are located in material cultures, what narratives these represent, and what are the implications for portraying change over time. The narratives draw on themes that are personal, temporal, cultural, emotional. Each ‘object’ is more than its tangible form: it is a symbol, a concept (or constellation of concepts), a narrative, a history, a personal/cultural memory trail. The object can represent emotion/s, in tangible/intangible forms, in ways that reveal how identities are constructed through engagement, participation and resistance inside and outside material cultures.

Team members each gave a five-minute presentation demonstrating these concepts in relation to their chosen objects. For example, a wooden block and a Minecraft App symbolise change and continuities in traditional and digital play (Yamada-Rice): a kaleidoscope symbolises theoretical complexity in understanding policy and practice in ECE (Wood). Focusing on identities, Procter uses the Tamagotchi (a handheld digital pet) to consider children’s emotional relationships with the material world and their identity work. Nutbrown uses a doll’s house, and contents, to consider changing conceptualizations of children and childhood. These everyday objects of childhood act as provocations to consider (for example) the ways in which children are positioned in research, whether visual methods can promote authentic participation, how material cultures carry images and discourses about children and childhood, and about early childhood education, what they reveal about change and continuities over time.

We recorded the session and this will be presented, with a reflective commentary, on the BERA EC SIG website.