A case study of belonging for an infant in family day care

Tina Stratigos

    Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis

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    This thesis is about belonging in infant early childhood education and care (ECEC). A sense of belonging is widely acknowledged as an essential aspect of young children’s wellbeing and plays a central role in a number of early childhood curriculum frameworks internationally, including Belonging, Being and Becoming: The Early Years Learning Framework for Australia (EYLF). However, the limited conceptualisation of belonging in the EYLF and what a focus on belonging might do in ECEC have been questioned. Indeed, belonging tends to be poorly defined and theorised across a range of disciplines and is often used as a taken-for-granted or self-explanatory concept. The EYLF focuses on the experience of belonging, particularly social, cultural and emotional belonging; but ignores the dynamic, political processes through which belonging works. The risk is that the emphasis on belonging, which holds the potential to contribute to social justice perspectives in ECEC, is dismissed simply as a romantic notion. It is important, therefore, to seek more complex ways of thinking about belonging and develop understandings about how belong works in young children’s everyday lives in ECEC.

    Infants’ social lives in ECEC are most commonly theorised in terms of
    attachment theory rather than through the lens of belonging. However, the
    applicability of attachment theory, with its almost exclusive focus on dyadic adultinfant relationships, to the complex social environments found in ECEC has been questioned. For example, it has been argued that attachment theory offers insights into only one aspect of infants’ social worlds and that other, broader lenses might reveal more of infants’ complex social abilities. Questions remain about what insights into infants’ social lives in ECEC might be afforded by a belonging lens.

    The aim of the doctoral project reported in this thesis was to investigate how
    belonging ‘worked’ for an infant in ECEC, particularly in relation to his belonging within the multi-age group of children, and what roles he played in how belonging worked. To this end, a 10-month longitudinal case study of belonging was conducted with Peter between the ages of 8 and 18 months in a family day care (FDC) setting. Data generation included video observations of Peter at FDC with accompanying field and reflective notes and a video-stimulated interview with Peter’s educator and parents. The data were brought into an encounter with concepts from Deleuze (such as assemblage, desire and micropolitics) and ideas from existing literature about how belonging operates (such as axes and politics of belonging) in an effort to produce new thinking about how belonging worked for Peter in the FDC setting.

    The study suggests that belonging for Peter was not just about a dyadic
    relationship with a significant adult, but a complex and dynamic political process that was negotiated through interactions and relationships within the whole FDC group. The important roles played by materiality and processes of categorisation in how belonging worked for Peter in ECEC were revealed. Vulnerabilities and competencies were identified in Peter’s capacity to access power and engage in active ways in political processes of belonging. The findings suggest that a political perspective on belonging is important and can contribute to and destabilise our accustomed ways of thinking about the social worlds of children in ECEC. In relation to infants, the politics of belonging have the potential to capture more of the complex and dynamic social worlds of infants beyond those afforded by more common theories of infant sociability such as attachment theory, with implications for theory, curriculum and practice.
    Original languageEnglish
    QualificationDoctor of Philosophy
    Awarding Institution
    • Charles Sturt University
    • Sumsion, Jennifer, Co-Supervisor
    • Bradley, Benjamin, Co-Supervisor
    Award date05 Aug 2015
    Place of PublicationAustralia
    Publication statusPublished - 2015


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