25 SES 04, Issues of Power in Researching with Children and Young People
It is thirty years since the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child was passed (UN, 1989) which aimed to provide children with the opportunity to express their views and be actively involved in issues of relevance to them. However, many adults continue to be reticent about the extent children can influence issues relating to them. One aspect the presenters will address, and we ask the audience to consider in discussion, is disempowerment and who disempowers whom and under what circumstances. This panel discussion will comprise of four brief presentations of research projects about children’s involvement in research, followed by an audience discussion.
Since student participation has been added to school agendas, the dilemma of power has intensified. Teachers are obliged to enable student participation, which poses a challenge due to the generational order and classroom power dynamics. Student participation, understood as ‘student involvement in collective decision-making processes […] that included dialogue between students and other decision-makers [… and having …] influence over the decisions being made and actions being taken’ (Mager & Nowak 2012, 40) has been observed in the mixed-methods study carried out by Zala-Mezö et al. (2018; Herzig, Müller-Kuhn & Zala-Mezö, 2018). This Swiss study identified that opportunities for participation were mostly, but not always, genuine.
From research carried out over several years in Spanish schools at all educational levels, research by Susinos, Haya and Ceballos (2015) adheres to a critical Student Voice model linked to the practical teaching of democratic participation. Through various strategies of social interaction (photovoice, assembly, walking methods, informal conversation with eliciting images) and the processes of negotiation, mutual interpretation and deliberation that take place between adults and children and among children knowledge is generated. .
The participatory power of children in in situ research is explored by Gillett-Swan and Sargeant (2018) with regard to unintentional power plays by non-participating adults in research settings. Case study vignettes from their Australian study in primary schools explore how researchers have to navigate the impact of adults, who belong in the school environment, on participating children when they unexpectedly enter the research space.
Children can see themselves as disempowered when interacting with adults. This needs to be acknowledged and planned into the research arena (Lowe, 2012). Innovative methods may need to be developed (Bird, Culley & Lakhanpaul, 2013) to identify ways children can accept their views are important. Capewell’s (2015) UK study suggests ways in which small actions can help children understand they can exert control over adults.
In this panel discussion, Herzig and Müller-Kuhn use examples from participant observation to discuss questions of power. Observed participation practices will also be compared to statistical trends emerging from survey data. Ceballos and Susinos present the case of two schools (infant and primary education) that undertake improvements related to educational spaces, social activities and relationships based on student participation. Gillett-Swan explores adult-child/adult-adult/child-child/child-adult power-plays in student-centred and participatory school-based research including the competing tensions between researcher and school staff authority in research spaces. Capewell identifies that researchers need to actively explore how children can be reassured that their views are of importance and will be listened to.
Those attending will be asked to consider: how issues of power and control between children and adults can be acknowledged and minimised, particularly in school settings when adults are used to being in control; ways that researchers could work more closely with teachers when researching in schools; and whether it is possible to enable true participation by children. Ultimately we question whether children/students’ views been overlooked, despite the best intentions of researchers and policy makers?
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