Childhood studies is an interdisciplinary area of theory and research comprised of intersecting fields that have evolved since the inception of childhood itself. Despite the pervasiveness of psychological frameworks that predominate early studies of childhood and that continue to dominate within teacher education programs, paradigmatic shifts within childhood studies have opened critical questions about the exclusive social norms, racial privileges, and unequal life chances maintained by the idea of childhood as a biologically determined and universal stage of life. Across a range of perspectives, critical scholarship in childhood studies begins with the idea that childhood is a social and historical construction tied to colonial discourses and ongoing injustices that have material effects on children’s lives. Drawing on the fields of history, sociology, postcolonial studies, psychoanalysis, and educational theory, scholars of childhood show how childhood is inextricably bound to philosophical ideals, political forces, social constructs, and emotional conflicts. In identifying and interrogating the ways that race, class, ability, gender, and sexuality affect and limit meanings of childhood, scholars open new metaphors for rethinking social life, development, belonging, relationality, and existence as such.
Lisa Farley and Debbie Sonu
Karen Ida Dannesboe and Bjørg Kjær
Denmark has a long tradition of public provision of early childhood education and care (ECEC) as part of what is known internationally as the Nordic welfare model. Both traditions and transformations within Danish ECEC are parallel to the establishment and development of this model. The emergence of child-centered pedagogy, so characteristic for Danish ECEC, is part of specific historical processes. Since the 1960s, the ECEC sector has undergone significant expansion and in 2020, most children in Denmark between the ages of 1 and 6 attend an ECEC institution. This expansion has positioned ECEC as a core universal welfare service, including a special focus on preventing injustice and inequality and on taking care of the vulnerable and disadvantaged. Early 21st-century international discourses on learning and early intervention have influenced political reforms and initiatives addressing ECEC institutions and the work of “pedagogues” (the Danish term for ECEC practitioners with a bachelor’s degree in social pedagogy). Since the 1990s, there has been growing political interest in regulating the content of ECEC, resulting in various policies and reforms that have changed the nature of Danish ECEC by introducing new learning agendas. This has been accompanied by an increased focus on the importance of the early years of childhood for outcomes later in life and on the role of parents in this regard. These tendencies are embedded in political initiatives and discourses and shape the conditions for ECEC, perceptions of children and childhood, the legitimacy of the pedagogical profession, the meaning of and emphasis on young children’s learning, the importance of inclusion, and the changing role of parents. These changes in social reforms and pedagogical initiatives interact with national historical processes and international tendencies and agendas at different levels.
Alexandra C. Gunn
Formal early childhood education is a relatively modern institution to which increasing numbers of children are routinely exposed. Since the modern invention of childhood, the early childhood years have been increasingly established as a site for public and private investment in the name of individual and community development, the achievement of educational success, increased human productivity, and ultimately labor market productivity and excellence. As various forms of early childhood education have developed around the world, each has been imbued with values, perspectives, norms, and standards of its pioneers. They have also drawn upon and reinforced certain truths, knowledges, practices, and expectations about children, childhood, education, and society. As microcosms of society whose inhabitants are largely novice members of the communities of which they are part, teachers in early childhood education are routinely addressing issues of exclusion, injustice, and inequity with children and families. French historian and poststructural philosopher Michel Foucault’s (1926–1984) interests in the nexus of power-knowledge-truth and its consequences for life offer avenues for comprehending how modern institutions, such as systems of early childhood education, invest in and bring about certain forms of knowledge and practice. His methods of genealogical inquiry and discourse analysis make visible the workings of power as it moves on, in, and through human bodies. The perspectives made visible by Foucauldian analyses show how techniques, developed and applied within institutions, form humans in particular ways. Thus, it is possible to see the interplay between power-truth-knowledge, how things come to be, and how they may change.