14 SES 09 A, Students and Families Voices in Educational Research
In the last two decades academic research as well as practice in Early Childhood Education (ECE) has been searching for ways to engage young children as participants in the research process with great emphasis being placed on ethics methodologies (Clark, 2005, 2011; Elwick & Sumsion, 2013) and methods (Murray, 2016). This increased interest and quest for participatory methods has led to innovative research methodologies and methods (Palaiologou, 2019) and a clear awareness that children are not anymore ’objects’ of research, but viewed as participants and valued as such (Brown & Perkins, 2019). This discourse has led to an increasing engagement of children in research, which is frequently called ’child-led research’ (see Brady et. al. 2018) where “children design, carry out and disseminate themselves with adult support rather than adult management” (Kellet 2010, p. 195). However, this does not come without a degree of scepticism in terms of claims to knowledge (co-) construction, credibility, legitimacy and purpose (Hammersley, 2017).
Although there is significant research problematising the relationship between researcher and young children, research examining the relationship of the researcher and the family, especially in-home based research and the degree that this type of research can be ethical, respectful and participatory is still very much in its infancy (see Brown, 2019). Most of the discussion when it comes to home-based research with families is limited either in the institutional (university driven) ethics of the research or ethical codes such as The European Early Childhood Research Association (EECERA) or associations such as the British Educational Research Association (BERA) (in the case of UK), or in the case of Australia the Australian Association for Research in Education, or the Australian Council for Educational Research.
As it will be argued in this presentation, although researchers in-home based research work with formalised codes of ethics, they should recognise the breadth and complexity of such research (Palaiologou, 2014). While a critical step in the research process involves engaging in institutional ethical procedures and seeking ethical consent, there is limited existing literature that offers guidance, particularly in terms anticipating and negotiating through the ethical dilemmas one might encounter in entering and conducting research in the spaces and places in which young families reside (Brown, 2019).
Yet, from the authors’ experience, it is clear that there are so many ethical issues that arise when engaging with young children and families as participants in qualitative research. These dilemmas range from ways in which researchers enter the family home, the ways in which they negotiate the physical space, issues around the physical presence and roles adopted by the researcher, through to the types of relationships (friend, confidant, researcher) they adopt in are efforts to fit in and build rapport with participants, yet also gain insights of the lived experiences and gather data with members of families. These types of ethical considerations and dilemmas may not always be anticipated at the outset of the ethics process, rather, often emerging when embedded within context (Gabb, 2009). However, these dilemmas can be confronting, requiring researchers to problematise and reflect in terms of the ethical implications.
Thus, in this paper, reflecting on the authors’ research projects with families, we aim to discuss some of the dilemmas and complexities faced when entering the homes of the families for research purposes, despite the fact that these families had offered their consent that was required by the institutional codes.
The methodology is based on reflection of four research projects. Two of the research projects were conducted in England, UK with families and their young children (under the age of five) and the main methods were observations and open-ended interviews with the parents. The purpose of these two projects were to investigate the use of technologies at home with children and families. The other two projects were conducted in regional Queensland, Australia with parents of young children with the main methods employed being semi-structured interviews. The first project focussed on exploring ways in which parents or primary carer bonded with their young child (referred to as ‘connecting with their kid’ by participants of this study) and the second project focussed exploring ways in which parents supported active play with their child/children within the home environment. For the reflection accounts we developed a theoretical lenses based on ecocultural theory and the concept of heterotopia. Ecocultural theory (Bernheimer, Gallomore and Weisner, 1990) is concerned with the distal family’s values, believes, habits (cultural ecology) and how family -constructs “meaning” of their circumstances, “in ecocultural theory a critical unit of analysis is daily routines (or actively settings) that are created and sustained by ecocultural focus” (Bernheimer et al 1990, p. 221). We also used this theory as conceptual lenses for the reflection as it is providing a “conceptual framework that enables us to understand why some parents think, feel ad act in certain ways, while others think feel ad act entirely different” (Burden and Thomas, 1986, p. 140). Such an approach suggest that the family system does not only depend on material conditions (such as physical space, income) but also family “meanings”, values, believes (ecological culture of family). The concept of heterotopia is used to describe certain cultural, institutional and discursive spaces that are somehow ‘other’: disturbing, intense, incompatible, contradictory or transforming (Foucault, 2008). It also encompasses not only the physical space we occupy but the social space as well as how we position ourselves as physical beings to the space we occupy.
Emerging critical reflections have revealed that when researching families at home, researchers might face the following dilemmas: 1. Physical space: there are concerns as what extent researchers might intimidate or pervade the space families occupy, including concerns about the status of their homes (e.g. house is messy). Concerns impacting on their level of comfort as well as their during the research; 2. Social space: the relationships between family-researcher. For example, families, on some occasions, viewed the researcher as a “friend” and expressed how they felt, which was not relevant to the data collection. Other times they asked for advice from the researchers on certain issues such as how long their children should use digital devices, or whether they were over-reacting in relation to ‘child-safety’ during children’s engagement active play. This raises issues around ways in which the researcher creates a respectful and ethical relationship with the families, whilst appreciating the fine line and risk of crossing the boundaries to a more “friendly/emotional connection”, beyond the research purposes. 3. Identity and the roles adopted by the researcher/participants: there were tensions in terms of family-participants emotional responses when constructing meaningful relationships (e.g. what is the role of the researcher when families want them to become confidant, friend, adviser?). It also showed that families felt enjoyment and pride of their children being part of the research, but at the same time “worrying” whether their child “was performing” as they thought it was expected. Finally, they were seeking to be respected, heard, understood and empowered as parents. From these preliminary findings we suggest that although the quest for child-centred research is valuable, when researching families at home researchers should seek to develop and theorise a family-centred research that is ethical and respectful.
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