Complexity, complicity and fluidity: early years provision in Tamil Nadu (India)
Early years provision, which combines childcare and preschool education, has been considered vital for child development by theorists and practitioners. Within early years provision pedagogy is assumed to be both an enabling and constraining factor which can shape a particular experience of childhood and, possibly, prepare children for a particular adulthood. This thesis explores pedagogical processes and practices vis-à-vis children’s experiences in three different pedagogical contexts: a corporation nursery, a private nursery and an ICDS (Integrated Child Development Services) Anganwadi centre in Chennai in Tamil Nadu (India). It explores the findings of a one year ethnographic study that involved observation/informal conversation with children and semi-structured interviews with teachers, care worker(s) and parents. The ethnographic study used methodological approaches from childhood research, adopted ethical positions from childhood studies and valued children as competent individuals that should be treated with respect throughout the research processes. The analysis of the empirical data uses the intersections of three concepts in the works of Foucault (subject), Butler (identity), Bourdieu (cultural capital) to illuminate and analyse the pedagogical processes and practices. The thesis characterises the different pedagogical contexts encountered in the study as: ‘activity centred’, ‘task centred’, and ‘care centred’. It explains that this context emerged in an on-going active process of negotiation, deliberation, reflection through ‘subjection’ and ‘resistance’. It demonstrates that children construct their embodied self-identity through everyday pedagogical/curriculum performativity and the teacher-children identities work within as well as outside pedagogical contexts. The empirical analysis identifies shame and distinction as key factors for pedagogical/curriculum performativity and argues that the embodied identities of children are fluid and contextual and that they are formed through the interaction of learning materials, academic ability/mastery, and bodily differences in the pedagogical contexts. It is argued that children employ cultural capital when (re)establishing home-nursery connections in different pedagogical contexts and that parents similarly use their cultural capital with a sense of ‘practical logic’ for decision making on matters related to early years provision, e.g. when recognising the transformative potential of children. The thesis findings suggest that there is an element of fluidity in pedagogical contexts and that the local cultural practices of teachers/care worker are reflectively integrated with minority world ideas when normative pedagogies are constructed. The thesis contributes to the development of childhood theory, by demonstrating that childhood is a complex phenomenon. At the policy level, the thesis makes recommendations for practitioners and administrators on how they can value local cultural knowledge, acknowledge reflexive practices of teachers/care workers, and equity issues in early years provision.