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Author ORCID Identifier

0000-0003-4309-9867

Abstract

This article emerges from a broader ethnographic study exploring how young children aged five and six years, and their educators, construct ‘race’ identities in a culturally diverse early childhood education setting in post-apartheid South Africa. Historically, systems of educational inequality and injustice have had a profound impact on how subjects have come to be ‘raced’ in the South African context. Drawing on a poststructural framework that problematizes the notion of identity, ‘race’, and young children’s discursive understandings of ‘race’, this article traces the complex ways in which young children and educators (re)construct, negotiate, resist and subvert subject formation processes in the school environment. Notions of performativity and embodiment provide important analytical tools through which ethnographic data is analysed. Such a framework moves discussion regarding young children and identity beyond more conventional psychological theories that postulate that the self emerges from intrapsychic processes or, at best, is shaped within very limited caregiver and familial contexts, thus avoiding the ‘complexity of human subjectivity’ (O’Loughlin 2001, 57). Dominant narratives about diversity and difference circulating in a formerly ‘white’ primary school with a commitment to transformation and diversity are interrogated. The frequent struggles with discourses of ‘race’, power and privilege that emerge in the lived experiences of both young children and educators points to the ways in which discursive positioning frame subject formation processes. It is argues that educators need to closely interrogate their own ‘race’ positioning(s) and simultaneously make visible the notion that children, like adults, are social agents who are as affected by political, economic, social and cultural forces.

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