Lived citizenship in early childhood in a flood-prone area in Amazonian Peru
Padilla Malca, Karina Violeta
Sociocultural definitions of citizenship challenge normative notions of the concept to include ‘differences’ (in terms of culture, gender, age, and so forth), in recognition of the diverse ways of being and acting as a citizen. Regarding children, due to conceptual and sociocultural beliefs, their recognition as citizens is challenging, and adult society usually tends to perceive them as “future citizens” or “partial citizens”. Within childhood studies, the importance and relevance of the concept of children’s citizenship have grown, and its understanding has been widely debated, just like the concept of childhood itself. Because of the difference between being a citizen as a status and the daily experience of citizenship, scholars suggest the study of Lived citizenship, that relates to how people give meaning and negotiate the components of citizenship (e.g. rights, participation, belonging) in their contexts. Concerning children, it allows the researcher to explore the daily construction of children’s citizenship, the contradictions and resistance, as well as the different kinds of expression of children’s citizenship. Based on the literature review, this study sought to explore the lived citizenship in early childhood in a flood-prone area in Amazonian Peru. To address the research aim, I undertook a qualitative research design influenced by the interpretivist paradigm. I collected the data over a nine-month period, using ethnographic research techniques, which allowed me to obtain ‘thick’ data on children’s experiences of lived citizenship. I conducted participatory observation at the pre-school located in the neighbourhood, children’s houses, and public spaces. I also conducted semi-structured interviews with children and adults, including caregivers and government workers. The study followed key ethical considerations to ensure respect to both participants’ and researcher rights and dignity as well as to guarantee their wellbeing. This research found three expressions of children’s lived citizenship: (1) children appropriated and become familiar with their spaces, by exploring, playing and taking moments to rest; (2) children performed citizen actions, including taking care of themselves, others and non-human entities (animals); and (3) children enacted their citizenship through acts of citizenship by transgressing social norms to enforce their rights. The research found that while adult caregivers recognised children’s participation in fostering the wellbeing of family members, children’s contribution to the economic activities of the family and in recovery and response activities in relation to the flooding season were overlooked. In addition, while adult caregivers and governmental workers recognised children as bearers of rights, there were some geographical limitations as well as limitations imposed by caregivers on the exercising of children’s rights. Regarding the right to play and to move around public spaces, girls and younger children were perceived by adults as having less skills to face the risks; hence, they were more limited in their outdoor play. This study provides evidence on the importance of risky play, as well as taking moments to rest, in enacting children’s lived citizenship. The findings expand the literature on lived citizenship by providing evidence on how children in their early years contribute to the wellbeing of their societies (not only their families, but also at the community level). Further discussion about the links between care and lived citizenship is also provided. Contribution on methodological considerations includes the importance of being aware of researcher’s emotions and subconscious reactions during data collection, as well as in the process of data analysis. This research has implications for policies and practice in the area of early childhood. The findings highlight the need to encourage children to recognise risks and learn how to face them in the cities where they live, in order to be able to move about independently and safely. Therefore, the evidence suggests that there is a need to ensure conditions for children that allow them to take risks, but still be protected to a certain extent. This is particularly relevant in places with natural hazards, to minimise the risk of injury. The results indicate that it is necessary to promote free play and spaces where children can socialise among peers, without the direct intervention of adults. The findings on how children perceive the floods, as well as their contributions to prevention, response and recovery measures, could help to develop strategies that actively involve children in mitigating the risks of natural hazards. The findings of this research provide evidence on the importance of including children’s perceptions and needs in the urban design, to make cities more appropriate and that respond to what children need to exercise their rights. The study also lays the groundwork for future research, including the need to explore further membership (identity and belonging) and care as key elements of lived citizenship.