Heteronormativity and early childhood education: Social justice and some puzzling queries.
Gunn, A. C. (2008). Heteronormativity and early childhood education: Social justice and some puzzling queries. (Thesis, Doctor of Education (EdD)). The University of Waikato, Hamilton, New Zealand. Retrieved from https://hdl.handle.net/10289/2671
Permanent Research Commons link: https://hdl.handle.net/10289/2671
This thesis investigated the discursive production of heteronormativity in the historical and present day contexts of early childhood education in Aotearoa New Zealand. A Foucauldian genealogical investigation of early childhood policy and documents revealed how heteronormative discourses shaped understandings in early childhood education in the twentieth century. Then a study of practices as accounted for and produced in focus group interviews showed how heteronormative discourses were confirmed and resisted in the present day. The thesis argues that the locus of heteronormativity in early childhood education centres on constructions of the family, of genders and of sexualities. It sought to investigate whether heteronormative discourses were shaping practices in early childhood education, and if so how. Following the writing of a genealogy of heteronormativity in early childhood education, the fieldwork of the study entailed three rounds of focus group interviews with queer teacher, queer ally and teacher educator participants. Discussions in the interviews were provoked by dilemmas of heterosexism, homophobia and heteronormativity in early childhood settings. Participants were asked to talk about what they thought was occurring in the dilemmas and they were also asked to share examples of practices from their own professional lives where same-sex sexualities had been troubled or affirmed. The texts produced from the focus group interviews were read the same way as the historical and policy and documents. Foucault's discourse analysis combined with questions from Davies' (1994) study of teaching practices, and queer theory provided a theoretical framework through which I was able to explore relations between constructions of genders, families, and sexualities; concepts of insiders and outsiders; and notions of power. A queer turn in the project enlarged the focus of the study to investigate how heteronormative discourse might have been shaping the research interviews too. A discourse of silence along with a discourse of risk was interpreted as contributing to heteronormativity in this work. A strategy designed to assist teachers to interrupt heteronormativity was explored. It allowed teachers to bring together ideas and concepts that would constitute families and parents in ways inclusive of and broader to the (hetero)norm. In the study, teachers, children and parents were shown to draw on (hetero)normalising discourses in their interactions with each other in early childhood education. Such activity limited opportunities for valid alternative options to heterosexuality to be known. This meant that heterosexuality was repeatedly constituted as dominant and normative, thus supporting heteronormativity. Constructions of genders, families and sexualities in the study were regularly shaped by traditional and essentialising discourses that positioned heterosexual sexuality as normal and non-heterosexual sexualities as not. These in combination with other discourses, such as a discourse of developmentalism, provided few opportunities for non-heterosexual sexualities to be recognised, valued and included in early childhood education. The extent to which socially just and inclusive policy aims in early childhood education might therefore be met in practice, could be seriously questioned. However, examples of practices that worked to expand opportunities for the recognition of diverse families and sexualities in early childhood education were also documented. These provided evidence that some teachers, parents and children in some circumstances can and do access and use discourses of social justice, family and sexual diversity, inclusion and human rights. Sustained access to these was not documented, in fact, discourses of social justice, family and sexual diversity, and inclusion were often immediately countered by limiting and (hetero)normalising responses. The thesis concludes with suggestions as to how such processes might be explored and challenged so that more teachers, more children, more families can enjoy recognition and welcome in early childhood education settings designed to include.
The University of Waikato
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