My PhD

Heteronormativity in Early Childhood Practice: Identifying how LGBT+ inequalities are maintained, constrained, and can be disrupted within early childhood settings in Scotland, UK.

My PhD runs from October 2018-2021. It is a funded project by the University of the West of Scotland in partnership with Early Years Scotland. I am supervised by Dr Susan Henderson, Dr Conny Gollek, and Dr Anne Pirrie.

Heteronormativity is a concept used to critique the hegemonic status of heterosexuality as a taken for granted, ‘natural’, and unquestionable norm. In recent decades a number of studies have provided important insight into what heteronormativity is and how it is experienced (Blaise, 2005; Robinson, 2013). These have tended to emphasise gender and sexuality as discursively constituted, and socially constructed phenomena, as evidenced in research focusing on children’s role-play games (Robinson and Diaz, 2006); marriage and family-play games (Blaise, 2005; Taylor and Richardson, 2005); and through ECEC practitioner’s (Gunn, 2008) as well as parent’s experiences (Gansen, 2017).

Yet, despite the wealth of literature on heteronormative practices in ECEC settings, recent studies show LGBT+ (defined below) inequalities still exist, and are persisting (Equality Network, 2015; TIE, 2016). My research seeks to build on previous intellectual gains made during the poststructuralist turn and apply a sociomaterialist proposal toward heteronormativity and children’s play, drawing on data analysis from an ECEC setting in Scotland, UK. Sociomaterialism prompts a manoeuvre away from understandings of childhood as a purely social phenomenon, and of heteronormativity as a stable and atemporal concept, towards rethinking childhood in terms of relational ontologies. This embraces a more expansive terrain where childhood experiences are comprised as much from non-human materialities (things) as they are from human social interaction (Fox and Alldred, 2018; Olsson, 2009).

In resituating ontological concerns, heteronormativity is (re)conceived as a mobile assemblage of social and material meanings and practices (Hook and  Wolfe, 2018), no longer simply an abstract signifier but an act in itself capable of capturing the material-semiotic event. Such a move, I argue,  may provide valuable insight into how we might better understand how heteronormative practices serve to perpetuate discrimination against LGBT+ people.

My current research objectives are:

  1. To describe the assemblages of human, non-human and more-than-human (defined below) relations within early childhood practices. This project aims to examine how non-human, human and more-than-human elements come together within the nursery site, figuring the assemblage to reconceive of the ways onto-epistemological entanglements make matter matter (Barad, 2007; Mazzei and Jackson, 2016). This could include, for example, the play objects within the classroom, the physical movements of humans, bodily gestures, the spatial arrangement of the nursery, and the sociomaterial effects of certain curricula and policy practices.
  2. To identify how practices and spaces of childcare sustain, and are sustained by, heteronormative practices. A focus on relations sets the departure point to focus more precisely on heteronormative practices within the early childhood site. Previous studies have identified the ways children’s play is often normatively gendered across different spaces (Blaise, 2005a; Gunn, 2008; Kehily et al, 2002). For example, the home corner, construction area or the literacy area. This study examines how particular spaces and practices themselves sustain heteronormative practices, drawing on new materialist theorisations to decentre the child and practitioner as the sole (human) agential focus of inquiry.
  3. To develop vignettes of spaces of childcare practices that enable practitioners to intervene into and challenge heteronormativity and provoke new knowledges of childcare practice. Vignettes have long been employed in qualitative research as a method for offering insight into a particular situation, event, or scenario, thereby allowing the researcher to clearly illustrate their data and findings (Barter and Renold, 1999; Gale, 2018). For the purposes of my study, creating vignettes during my fieldwork will allow me to illustrate my data and provide insights into an event. They will also allow me to communicate how practitioners might intervene in heteronormative practices in order to better address the ways gender and sexuality are normatively assembled within the early childhood space.
  4. To evaluate how an ontoepistemological approach to exploring (heteronormative) childcare practices can assist future learning and teaching. An onto-epistemological approach toward early childhood practices disrupts normative understandings of childhood development and invokes new knowledges of how heteronormative practices assemble. Future teaching and learning practice may benefit from a theoretical paradigm that does not privilege human agency over materiality. This has implications for pedagogical knowledges and how we might more successfully understand the ways heteronormative practices serve to perpetuate discrimination against LGBT+ communities.

LGBT+ : I use LGBT+ as an umbrella term to refer to all minoritised sexual orientations and gender identities, with the plus symbol used as a proxy to represent those with fluid or non-binary identities.

More-than-human: This is a common term in human geography (Lorimer, 2010; Whatmore, 2006), sociomaterialism (Bennett, 2010; Fenwick andLandri, 2012) and posthumanism  (Braidotti, 2013; Haraway, 2008)  which aims to trouble the binary separation of the non-human (by which I mean all materials and the natural world which are not human corporeal bodies) and human relations. More-than draws attention to the entanglements that emerge through both non-human and human relations and signifies a move away from individualistic humanist conceptions of agency as located in the corporeal body, toward an understanding of agency as distributed across given relations (through assemblages).

For my research, I propose that paying attention to more-than-human endeavours will allow me to broaden the ways heteronormativity is (re)produced through social and material relations, rather than solely human agency. Video methods are particularly well-suited form of inquiry into the more-than-human, allowing for “the rich array of the senses, dispositions, capabilities and potentialities of all manner of social objects and forces assembled through, and involved in, the co-fabrication of socio-material worlds” (Whatmore, 2006:604) to be accounted for. This may be re-read as an attempt to get at what is left out of more conventional research practices that primarily the privilege human.

Last updated 3rd January 2020.