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'No-body' is my friend: Cultural considerations of young children's 'imaginary companions'

The variegated relationships young children may have during their early childhood education (ECE) years have long been of interest to theorists and teachers alike. Relationships, and understandings of companionship, can take multiple forms. Our understandings of what these relationships may look like are frequently informed by complex social and cultural constructs; therefore, seeking to apply a one-size-fits-all interpretation is theoretically and culturally problematic, especially when the companions young children may spend time with may be unseen or unnoticed by surrounding adults. A common Euro-western notion is that unseen companions are not real; hence they are generally referred to in the literature as being imaginary. In an extensive literature review, this thesis explores whether companionship with the unseen are one of many possible forms of relationships. Dominant Euro-western claims that such relationships are imaginary are considered critically before the analysis widens in theoretical scope to draw on various alternative cultural accounts. The analysis draws on the theoretical work of Jacques Derrida, Michel Foucault and Karen Barad, in particular. An additional exploration considers the author’s own situated experiences of parenting a child who during her childhood years had companions that were unseen to the author. The final analysis, based on a small selection of carefully chosen autoethnographic accounts, draws on the significance of ancestral inheritance. Within this specific research context that inheritance comprises my daughter’s Māori ancestry and our shared Celtic ancestry. Ancestral inheritance provides reflexive companionship for the entire thesis. Examining inheritance sheds light on ways that traditional Euro-western claims of the imagined worlds of children, and consequently childhood, have produced a legacy of ideas which have subsequently held the term imaginary in place. These dominant worldviews are shown to fall short in their capacity to cover the diversity of lived realities of children and their unseen (to others) companion(s). Inheritance also denotes the culturally mediated birthright that may travel alongside a young child and how this birthright may provide insight and alternative cultural knowledge and understandings of various multiform relationship companions. As a result of analysing several possible perspectives on the relationships under study, this thesis proposes the new term culturally compatible travelling companions (CCTC): companions who travel alongside children as ordinary, expected features of their lifespan. This shift in term acknowledges that diverse notions of companionship, and the forms this may take, are integral and salient constructions of each culture’s historical and narrative accounts. This is timely research, as currently nearly 64% of young children aged between birth and four years of age attend some type of Early Childhood Education (ECE) service in Aotearoa New Zealand (Ministry of Education [MoE], 2019). The national ECE curriculum document Te Whāriki (MoE, 2017) recognises the significance of young children’s relationships and understands those relationships within the rich and complex cultural knowledge patterning that travels alongside a young child. The aim of this research is to add to the theoretical understandings of the forms, functions and features of the multiple, complex relationship companions who may share the lives of young children, whether or not these companions are seen or discernible to those around the children. It suggests an alternative perspective to the dominant view and offers provocations for those who work alongside young children to think differently about whether these relationship companions are indeed only imaginary.
Type of thesis
Hayes (Bluett), S. J. (2020). ‘No-body’ is my friend: Cultural considerations of young children’s ‘imaginary companions’ (Thesis, Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)). The University of Waikato, Hamilton, New Zealand. Retrieved from https://hdl.handle.net/10289/13601
The University of Waikato
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