ERG SES E 08, Early Years Education
Schools in super-divers societies (Vertovec 2007) face the challenge of complex processes of inclusion and integration. The idea of inclusive schooling has been at the core of educational policy discussions in various European countries. In this respect each child should be supported individually by its teachers according to his or her ‘requirements and potential’. This also applies to the kindergarten level, which since 2008 has become part of compulsory education in Zurich, Switzerland, for all children from the age of four. In this context however, the acknowledgement of pupils’ diversity may at the same time lead to (unintentional) exclusions. Dealing with diversity is therefore far from idealist and harmonic, but also packed up with tensions (Gilliam et al. 2017; Gilliam 2014).
Based upon this dilemma, the contribution pays attention to everyday negotiations of one specific layer of person-related differentiation: pupils’ ascribed ethnic belonging when it comes to pupils that catch the attention of teacher as being `conspicuous´. While much has been said on the production of ethnicity in pedagogical settings (Beach and Lunneblad 2011; Chee 2012; Diehm et al. 2013; Ogbu 1988; Stenger et al. 2017), these insights have not often been put in relation to the somewhat fuzzy concept of ‘conspicuousness’ in pedagogical interactions. We therefore aim to shed light on processes of the production of ‘conspicuous children’. Drawing on ethnographic data from the ongoing research project “Conspicuous Children. An Ethnography of Processes of Differentiation in the Kindergarten” (2016-2019, funded by the Swiss National Science Foundation), as well as a PhD endeavour embedded in the overall research, we investigate how, by whom and in which situations ethnicity is, along with other lines of differences, (re-)produced and foregrounded in the context of kindergarten. Thereby, we explore how those (re-)productions of difference are linked to the construction of ‘conspicuous children’. The ethnomethodological and social-constructivist concept of doing difference is used to closely look at blurred, dynamic, ever shifting productions of ethnicity as “ongoing interactional accomplishments” (West and Fenstermaker 1995), understanding ethnicity – in contrast to an essentialist and ontological point of view – as socially constructed and “in relational, processual, dynamic, eventful and disaggregated terms” (Brubaker 2002, 167).
The ethnographic case of Harun, a five-year-old boy that enrolled in kindergarten the same day as we as ethnographers started research in that site, will help us to critically examine our questions. We will analyze how his Turkish migrant background combined with a full-time-working single mother and an often-present grandmother with headscarf is handled, and in which educational practices these references as lines of differentiation are made relevant.
In the project, we carried out participant observation in three – socio-economic diverse – kindergarten sites in the city of Zurich. The ethnographic data we draw upon in this contribution, however, was collected mainly in one site, which can be described as situated in a super-divers and economically deprived neighborhood, schooling pupils with 14 different first languages. Focusing on everyday interactions of children and teacher (and to a lesser extent, families) in the kindergarten class for around 18 months, we could observe transformations of social orders and how ethnicity entered – as did the children on their first day of kindergarten – the stage. Reflecting upon the dealing with ethnicity, the ethnographical approach not only brought to the fore the complexities of social reality but helped to surprise us, to question own assumptions, and thus to speak with Pache Huber and Spyrou: “The richness of the ethnographic detail allows the authors to de-essentialize ethnicity while, at the same time, acknowledge and recognize the still significant role it plays in contemporary world. Long-term engagement with children allows researchers to build trust and rapport which then might result in more in-depth and nuanced understandings of children’s word and actions” (2012, 295). Fieldnotes and transcripts of audio-records from everyday life in kindergarten as well as interviews were used for analysis. Most of the analysis was done in team. Even though the focus here is on the case of one boy in one of the fields, the contrasting and comparison to the other two sides helped sharpen the analysis and challenge taken for granted assumptions, thus also making the familiar strange (Delamont and Atkinson 1996).
With our multifaceted ethnographic data, we can show that ethnicity – apart from small interactions acknowledging diversity – is rather seldom explicitly brought up in pedagogical practice. Other categorizations such as generation (‘teachers’ and ‘children’) or gender are much more frequently produced openly, thus addressed in front of the pupils (Seele 2012, 321) and also implied with certain expectations of behavior. However, in this contribution we aim to explore how ethnic ascriptions nevertheless are made relevant, especially when pedagogical situations with children did not seem to function in a – for the teachers – expected manner. Ethnicity thus is used in an essentialist way to interpret children’s conspicuousness in terms of their bodily practices and deviant behavior. By examining Harun’s case, the teachers’ assessment of his identified conspicuous negative behavior is explained with explicit reference to his origin (such as labeling him as “oriental prince”), affecting their treatment, but without referring to it in front of Harun. Therefore, the configuration of several person-related differences leads to an essentialized concept of ethnicity and is perceptible in teachers’ reactions and practice with Harun’s observed conspicuous deviancy. However, this is not the only social positioning of Harun. We show that Harun is differently – even paradoxically and ambivalently – positioned by the various actors (e.g. his teachers, family members or other children in the kindergarten) and how he reacts to these positions and critically reinterprets, questions or transforms them. Even though in the broader context of inclusive schooling Harun is sometimes brought up as ‘the other’ and therefore 'included-as-excluded', we assume that the different positions also lead to more scope of action and agency for Harun. Thus, Harun’s case illustrates how the (re-)production of ethnicity is linked to the construction of ‘conspicuous children’. Those ethnographic encounters with ethnicity enable us to critically think of and explore processes of doing difference in kindergarten’s everyday life.
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