Where Childhood is Made: Childhood Spaces - Children's Places

Kirsi Pauliina Kallio, Aino Ritala-Koskinen & Niina Rutanen (eds.)

(In Finnish: Missä lapsuutta tehdään?)

This book follows the theme of the Second Finnish Childhood Studies Conference, held in 2009 in Tampere. Situated in the field of childhood studies, the book engages in a discussion of the concepts of space and place within this multidisciplinary field. The chapters (peer-reviewed), written on the basis of key note lectures and conference papers, approach the construction of childhood spaces and children’s places from two directions. In the first part of the book the spaces offered and produced for children and childhood are taken as a starting point. In the latter chapters the analysis is build from children’s places’ points of views – places that children themselves produce within the institutional, historical and socio-economic constraints of their everyday lives. In addition to presenting empirical findings, many of the chapters engage in critical discussion of methodologies in the area of multidisciplinary childhood studies, addressing space and place as the main theme

The book is divided into three sections. The first section includes two translated keynote lectures presented in the conference. Michel Vandenbroeck and Maria Bouverne-De Bie investigate how ‘children as social actors’ and ‘children’s participation’ as key concepts in the paradigm shift for the educational sciences, inspired by sociology of childhood, are spoken into practice in the everyday life of the families.

The research identifies negotiation among children and parents as a new educational norm. Their critical comments are based on historical analysis into 150 years of governing children and families in Belgium. Similarly, Robert M. Vanderbeck focuses on children as competent social actors and, particularly, how issues of adulthood have been approached in childhood studies. He discusses critically the child/adult binary opposition, addressing how childhood studies should not view adult and adulthood as single, homogeneous categories. The empirical analytical focus of the chapter is on the author’s political involvement with youth activists in the city of Leeds.

In the second section, the discussion focuses on the spaces produced for children. Anu Alanko investigates children’s spaces for participation in the upper level of Finnish comprehensive school. Her findings indicate how children’s notions of participation vary from direct participation, such as voting, to participation in the everyday events and presence in the classes. In the following chapter, Mira Roine describes the supportive, virtual platform offered to children who suffer from their parents’ extensive use of alcohol. Her analysis reveals how children can make use of Internet-based peer-support systems for handling their difficult familial situations.

Marja Leena Böök focuses on children’s responsibilities at home. Her discursive analysis of parents’ talk about children’s responsibilities shows how responsibilities are constructed along two main lines. For some parents, children’s responsibilities are constructed on the basis of their present participation in the family life (children as beings), whereas others approach children’s responsibilities from their futuriority (children as becomings). Eero Suoninen and Jukka Partanen analyze the interview process as a space for interaction by applying the notions of George Herbert Mead. Their analysis shows the detailed interaction dynamics that take place in an interview setting with children, and opens floor for critically analyzing the role of the interviewer in the process. 

In the third section of the book, children’s places are investigated with an emphasis on children’s perspectives on their production of place. Children’s agency and participation is emphasized from different perspectives and with a variety of empirical data.

Liisa Karlsson begins the section by presenting her approach to childhood and child studies: ‘studies of child perspective’, emphasizing children’s own perspectives and agency in the production of knowledge. She analyses some of the new methods that have been developed to engage in a more equal interaction with children. Narrative and other orientations that focus on listening to children are at the centre of this approach. Marleena Stolp develops an analysis of a theatre play with children. During the process of the theatre production, children engaged in creative ‘doubling’. Namely, they engage in the movement between being ‘themselves’ and the role characters in the play. This phenomenon is also visible in children’s play. Stolp’s analysis shows how children’s play-worlds, the world of theatre and their everyday realities mix together on the stage. Next, Helena Oikarinen-Jabai builds her chapter on the basis of art and cultural studies. She discusses the borders between ‘us’ and ‘them’ critically by analyzing the trans-national spaces that children produce. The discussion is based on her trans-disciplinary, arts-based research that produced a children’s book as one of its end products. The method differs from traditional approaches, drawing on reflexive ethnography and performative writing.

In Chapter III the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, and particularly child’s right to access to information and material from a diversity of sources, creates the starting point for Suvi Pennanen’s analysis. Her empirical material includes interviews with children and observation data from a day care centre. She examines children’s inter-textually constructed play cultures and their use of materials from different media sources. Her analysis leads to the critical question of the concept of knowledge in terms of the knowledge and practices that are valuable among children in their peer cultural communities. Taina Kyrönlampi-Kylmänen finishes the section by applying a holistic concept of a human and phenomenological approach to the study human behaviour and experiences. Her empirical work is based on interviews and discussions with children about their experiences and feelings concerning home and their day-care centre. Her analysis shows that children are able to create imaginary spaces (space-in-between) in their play. In play, children are liberated from the physical restrictions of space and place.

In the closing chapter, Kirsi Pauliina Kallio discusses the content of the book from selected spatial perspectives. First, she highlights the idea of the two-directional construction of children’s worlds by considering how the childhood institutions introduced in this book are produced in social space through representations of space, spatial practices and representational acts. Both children’s and adults’ agencies are seen as relevant in these social, cultural and political processes. Secondly, Kallio ponders how the body acts as a place where childhood is made and re-made. By shedding ‘sidelight’ on some of the analyses presented in the book, she shows how children’s bodies act as intermediaries, shippers and assemblages that both mobilize and alter the meanings of childhood.

This book is aimed at readers interested in multidisciplinary childhood studies. The writers represent various fields such as geography, sociology, arts, education, psychology, social work, social psychology, and media studies. The book is published by the Finnish Youth Research Network (NTV), the Finnish Society for Childhood Studies (LaTu) and the Childhood and Family Research Unit of the University of Tampere (PerLa).