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Playful citizenship: Between disturbances and productive ruptures. An ethnographic study exploring democratic living and children´s citizenship in...

The study thus contributes with new perspectives and knowledge about why it is important to secure space for and attention to children’s playful bodily practices in primary school as it provides opportunities not only to learn about and for democracy, but through democracy by means of bodily doings and experiences.

Lene Cherize Haugland Sirevåg

PhD Candidate

Lene Cherize Haugland Sirevåg will defend her PhD thesis Playful citizenship: Between disturbances and productive ruptures. An ethnographic study exploring democratic living and children´s citizenship in primary school 19 December 2023.

Summary of the thesis:

The study explores how attention toward children’s playful practices and modes of participation can enhance our understanding of democracy as a way of life in elementary school. Through an ethnographic fieldwork in a Norwegian primary school, it became apparent that children’s playful bodily practices often caused ruptures in the pedagogical agenda, challenged power relations, and simultaneously fostered collectives featured by a strong sense of affect among the children. Children’s practices in these situations were often defined as negative disruptive noise and nonsense. Children were positioned as unruly not ready to participate. Using Mouffe’s radical theory of democracy and Merleau-Ponty’s theory on the significance of the body in meaning-making existence, these practices are studied as a form and possible expression of democracy and a form of living in primary school.  

Departing in children’s perspectives, experiences, and playful forms of participation disturbances can be conceptualised as potential productive ruptures, and as an expression of lived democracy and a form of playful citizenship. This study contributes thus to raising new perspectives on disruptive behaviour as a phenomenon, and what may promote or hinder children’s experiences with democracy in school.  

The results indicate that the potential of productive ruptures can emerge if four dimensions of the social are expressed simultaneously; The playful, bodily, conflictual, and collective. The playful as a constituting force of unofficial forms of school life created by children’s playful forms of being. Bodily forms of communications steer children’s interactions and express a body radically different from the one expected in official forms of school life. This is agency not driven by the child’s individual voice, but by active bodies that feed off and continuously negotiate and create conflictual encounters in collectives featured by a strong togetherness expressed among the children. This can be seen as collective bodily agency that causes ruptures and negotiates a pupil role where expectations are tied to academic achievement, being calm and regulated.

By approaching disturbances from a democratic perspective, the study shows that what can be understood as negative off task behaviour and lack of self-regulation towards the school demands can also be understood as active bodies that create and negotiate alternative identities and student roles. The study thus contributes with new perspectives and knowledge about why it is important to secure space for and attention to children’s playful bodily practices in primary school as it provides opportunities not only to learn about and for democracy, but through democracy by means of bodily doings and experiences.  

More information about time and place for the doctoral defense.