Conceptions of infants' capabilities: The nexus between conceptions, practices, and infants' lived experiences

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis

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This thesis examines the nexus between conceptions about infants’ capabilities,
the ways these conceptions manifest in practices with infants, and how these
practices shape infants’ own lived experiences in early childhood education
(ECE) contexts. Literature about infant pedagogy has highlighted the complexity
of early childhood educators’ experiences of working with infants, and the
tendency of educators to rely on implicit theories and naïve beliefs. This
tendency is compounded by deeply embedded maternalist discourses in ECE,
and the emotional intensity of day-to-day work with infants. However, there is a
paucity of research that examines how early childhood educators’ conceptions,
which incorporate their implicit theories and naïve beliefs, might be enacted in
practice. Further, that educators’ conceptions of infants can manifest in their
practices may have significant implications for the infants for whom they are
responsible. It is crucial, therefore, to investigate how educators’ practices
prefigure possibilities for infants’ own daily practices and subsequent learning.

The thesis utilised the theory of practice architectures as a theoretical,
methodological, and analytical framework for examining ECE practices, making
explicit arrangements that enable and constrain infant pedagogy and praxis. A
methodological attitude of ethical symmetry was used to guide the research
practices of (myself as) the researcher, grounded in a sense of respect for the
practices of educators and infants who participated in the study at an ECE
setting in Sydney, Australia. In doing so I position myself along with the other
participants as practitioners of the research, and, so, co-researchers.
Committing to action the theoretical starting point of the thesis, data generation
methods were employed that identified, articulated, and examined individual
practices of all the participants in the study, and the practice architectures that
shaped them. Data included digital photo and video observations, field notes,
researcher reflections, and group discussions. Iterative analysis involved the
use of a ‘Practice Architectures Map’ with educators during group discussions.
Finer application of the theory of practice architectures helped further organise
and analyse the data. Educators’ conceptions of infants as more and less
capable of independent learning were found to manifest in practices that
enabled and constrained opportunities for infants to practice independent
learning. Within these ‘practice architectures’, infants acted in agentic ways that
further influenced their opportunities for learning.

This thesis contributes new knowledge to emerging literature about
infants’ capabilities in naturalistic settings, infants as research participants, and
application of the theory of practice architectures. Additionally, a conceptually
significant contribution of the thesis has been an exploration of the notion of
praxis, which underpins the theory of practice architectures, and its application
to guiding the practices of adults working with infants either as researchers or
educators. As such, this thesis further contributes to new knowledge by
addressing the challenges of the emotionally evocative nature of infant
pedagogy and research. Suggestions for incorporating the concept of praxis in
teacher education and ECE practice are discussed as a possible means to
alleviate work related stress for educators working with infants, which might
help support staff satisfaction. Finally, by demonstrating the influences of
educators’ conceptions on practices, and of these practices on infants’
subsequent learning opportunities and the complexity of negotiating infants’
own sophisticated practices, this thesis highlights implications for policy
changes that support the need for specialised infant pedagogy.
Original languageEnglish
QualificationDoctor of Philosophy
Awarding Institution
  • Charles Sturt University
  • Sumsion, Jennifer, Co-Supervisor
  • Harrison, Linda, Co-Supervisor
  • Press, Frances, Co-Supervisor
Award date09 Nov 2015
Place of PublicationAustralia
Publication statusPublished - 2015


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