Socio-material reading of belonging: mobile children and mobile devices in school spaces
Despite national incentives and additional resourcing, large numbers of children from traditionally mobile families (specifically Gypsies and Travellers) do not engage with school in Scotland beyond the age of eleven. Community discourse suggests that the schools’ curriculum and social and cultural practices exclude them. By employing digital, visual research methods through a case-study approach this thesis explores what happens when children from Gypsy/Traveller families combine with digital media to make sense of their experiences of school. Two theoretical perspectives are connected––new materialism and dialogism––to investigate what effects are produced between children and digital media within schools’ social, material and pedagogic spaces. Analysis centres on both the children’s and the researchers’ interpretations. Fieldwork was structured through a series of three school-based interventions. These ran over two terms in 2018 and 2019. They involved nine children aged 8 to 11 years based in two primary schools in Scotland—one inner city, one rural. Each child participant had been ascribed Gypsy/Traveller ethnicity on the schools’ data records. The children’s families ranged from ‘settled’ (living permanently on local authority Traveller sites or houses) and semi-nomadic (travelling seasonally for work and cultural commitments). The study found that bringing the Gypsy/Traveller child together with digital media offered a powerful way of unlocking and surfacing the children’s lived experience of school. Through a series of critical and creative digital activities some children were able to perform aspects of their identities strongly in relation to their culture and some demonstrated how they experienced discomfort when school practices were in tension with this culture. However, the study also found that children could generate a sense of belonging through a wide range of people, things and events within the school environment and that, for most, a state of belonging was never fixed but constantly negotiated in different realms. The combination of child and media (here termed child/media spaces) offered distinct characteristics which, appeared to be necessary to the children’s generation of their own spaces of belonging. Here/there spaces, provisional space and shared space offered an accessible language. In each, the child and the media were able to play out different experiences, emotions and identities, particularly in response to the unequal power relations that the children encountered. The study suggests that the child/media space is part physical and part mental, combining elements of each, and similar to Soja’s Third Space, it can also be fluid, allowing children to move between elements of the material, the imagined and the symbolic (1996). The study proposes the need for new understandings of how digital media can contribute to combat exclusionary practices in schools for the children of Gypsy/Travellers and from other marginalised families. It suggests that belonging is a fluid construct that can be produced in multiple ways through the child/media spaces described in the study. This has positive implications and opens up possibilities for new thinking about the inclusion in schools of Gypsy/Traveller children.