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Democratic education for competent children?: Ethnographic research in preschools in different local contexts
Umeå University, Faculty of Social Sciences, Department of applied educational science.ORCID iD: 0000-0003-3910-0319
2016 (English)Conference paper, Abstract (Refereed)
Abstract [en]

With the starting point in a planned study about democracy in different preschools, this roundtable invites to a deepened discussion about power relations in democratic fostering of children and the need and value of studying their situation in preschools in different local contexts. In Sweden, as well as in other Nordic countries, preschool is the first important step for many children in the education to be a democratic citizen. The goals in the Swedish curricula are ambitious; girls and boys from different backgrounds shall, for example, have the same possibilities to exercise influence and to learn about, and “to live”, democracy in preschool (Skolverket 2010). How this should be carried out is left to the pedagogues to decide. The democratic commission in the curricula is sometimes contradictory (e.g. solidarity with others and individual freedom of choice), and research from Nordic countries reports that the commission are understood in different ways, and often seen as difficult to implement (Jansen, Johansson & Eriksen Ødegaard 2011). One often emphasized key component for children´s possibilities to participate is to be seen as competent persons. However, what is understood as competent is not neutral, for example, in Kjørholt´s (2008) study, competences that were highly valued in other cultures than the Norwegian, ran the risk of being interpreted as shortcomings.   

The aim of the planned study is to develop knowledge about democratic fostering in preschools in different local contexts with respect to ethnical and socio-economic circumstances. Of special interest is the content and methods used in the pedagogic practice, as well as the children´s own attempts to influence in preschool. Questions about how democratic subjects are presented in the pedagogic practice, as well as questions about how, and what, the children are promoted to, and themselves try to, influence are focused. Three preschools will be selected to cover a variety of local contexts in terms of ethnicity and socio-economic circumstances, one from a rural area, and two from big cities (one district with a large number of immigrants and one district with a majority of “middle-/upper class”). A critical ethnographic approach will be applied, and the empirical material will consist of observations, conversations, interviews and documents (two months in each preschool). The analyses will focus on power relations such as gender, ethnicity and social class perspectives, and the relation to local contexts. It is central to consider both different groups of children´s attempts to influence, and the power relations in the pedagogic practices, i.e. the relationship between agency and structures in the different environments.


Jansen, K E, Johansson, E & Eriksen Ødegaard (2011). På jakt etter demokratibegrep i barnehagen. Nordisk barnehageforskning, 4(2), 61-64.

Kjørholt, A T (2008). Children as new citizens: In the best Interests of the child? I: A James & A L James (eds.) European childhoods: Cultures, politics and childhoods in Europe. New York: Palgrave Macmillan.

Skolverket (2010). Läroplan för förskolan Lpfö 98. Reviderad 2010. Stockholm: Fritzes.

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
National Category
Pedagogical Work
Research subject
educational work
URN: urn:nbn:se:umu:diva-118296OAI: diva2:911887
NERA 44th Congress: Social Justice, Equality and Solidarity in Education, 9-11 March Helsinki
Available from: 2016-03-14 Created: 2016-03-14 Last updated: 2016-03-15

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Hjelmér, Carina
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