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Ethnography and Education


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Children as co-researchers in anthropological narratives in education


Diana Milstein
a a

Facultad de Ciencias de la Educacin, Universidad Nacional del Comahue, Ro Negro, Argentina Available online: 23 Jun 2010

To cite this article: Diana Milstein (2010): Children as co-researchers in anthropological narratives in education, Ethnography and Education, 5:1, 1-15 To link to this article: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/17457821003768406

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Ethnography and Education Vol. 5, No. 1, March 2010, 115

Children as co-researchers in anthropological narratives in education


Diana Milstein*
Facultad de Ciencias de la Educacion, Universidad Nacional del Comahue, Ro Negro, Argentina This article shows how primary school children in a province of Buenos Aires, Argentina were used as co-researchers and how this provided an important tool for my learning alongside them. Including childrens viewpoints in my ethnographical research was vital to understanding aspects of school politicisation that would otherwise have remained hidden. Their views provided distance from what one could term the official conscience pervading adult opinion. This distance was possible, among other reasons, because the children had not completely incorporated some of the conventions that made up adult discourse in a certain time and place. Creating horizontal relationships with the children unlike those they had with teachers and adults at home was difficult but the experience was immeasurably enriching for me as an anthropologist, since it gave me the opportunity to denaturalise the roles of teacher and mother, my supposed familiarity of school life, and my relationships with children. Keywords: ethnography; eldwork; children as co-researchers; primary school

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1. Introduction This article forms part of the ethnographical research for which I conducted field work in 2004 and 2005 at the Islas Malvinas Primary School (Primary School No. 40)1 in Villa La Florida, Quilmes District, Buenos Aires Province, Argentina.2 The general aim was to study the political content found in school practices in State primary schools, focusing on the relationship between the State and society within the context of disorganisation and under-funding wrought by Argentinas economic, social, and political crisis of the 1990s. Since research centred on examining school practices from a political standpoint, this meant considering the school as a social environment within which to analyse political processes without restricting analysis to pedagogical, administrative, and/or legislative issues. It also meant placing these practices within general processes developing both inside and outside of the school. My aim was to avoid limiting the political dimension to State policies or to the political use of education by governments and parties, thus allowing me to research the political tensions and social dynamics that evolve in schools and affect everyday school life. Indeed, the research focused on the politics of daily school life and showed the diversity of social roles that come together and play a part in this routine, as well as profiling a variety of political aspects, tensions, and disputes (Milstein 2009).

*Email: dianamilstein@fibertel.com.ar
ISSN 1745-7823 print/ISSN 1745-7831 online # 2010 Taylor & Francis DOI: 10.1080/17457821003768406 http://www.informaworld.com

D. Milstein

At the outset of my field work, my interest in understanding school practices within a political context led me to plan a series of observations and interviews involving adults. It was difficult for me to realise at the time that childrens comments often included valuable information regarding my target interest. By not talking to them, I was at first forming part of the general tendency of depoliticising children and considering them to be outsiders in the political dimension of daily life. George Balandier (1980/1994, 12), in talking about the ideological curtains that prevent us from seeing, attributes a deoxidising quality to them, indicating that what appears to be paradoxical turns out to be the most evident sign of the order of things and the nature of power. The paragraphs of my notes in which children spoke had this effect on me. I first experienced it only one month into my field work. I was observing a physical education class when Debora, a fifth year girl who wasnt participating because she had been ill, told me that her peers had got a teacher dismissed because she used to hit the children. I was astonished. This was not a common occurrence and, up to that time, I had heard no such stories. Sensing my interest, Debora went into greater detail, telling me that there had already been four teachers in her class. She clarified that only one had been fired, because she was wicked and always shouted and pushed the children. I knew from teachers comments that this was a difficult class. They said that several children had had to repeat the year. There were also big age differences among the children and some came from problem families. They had also been unlucky that year, having changed teachers so often. But none of the teachers even implied anything regarding what Debora had told me. This and other stories that began to turn up in my notes led me to give serious thought to the childrens perceptions and points of view. I became conscious that speaking about others needs to be backed up by speaking with others (Fabian 2007, 29). The children broadened my understanding of what was happening, and sometimes, as in Deboras case, did so in a surprising way. Their need to understand the order of the reality around them helped me to understand some aspects of the disorder experienced by the adults, including myself. Sometimes, where adults saw only confusion, children found a certain order. My enthusiasm with this realisation grew and, some months later, I carried out the first of two field tasks with groups of children. During this period, I included them as interlocutors, researchers and writers. The purpose of this article is to frame and address the issues surrounding childrens agency within an educational context, by providing a sampling from my ethnographic study in which children were my co-researchers, within a setting that also proved an important tool for my learning along with them. The article pays special attention to how the children linked perceptions and interpretations arising from their social world, with emphasis on the contribution of their views to my work, especially considering that there is a correspondence between the way in which children and others learn and the way the ethnographers go about their task (Waldorff 2008, 7). I also include a discussion regarding how working with children helped me to break through school boundaries. This article also suggests including this type of ethnographical practice as a major topic of discussion in debate on the status of childrens discourse in anthropological studies on education.

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Ethnography and Education 2. Field work in cooperation with children

I began my field work in Villa La Florida in April 2004. I chose this town because it had endured a major share of suffering in the unemployment crisis of the 1990s. There are no precise figures in this regard, but estimates tend to agree that unemployment and under-employment here at the end of the 1990s had reached 40% of the active population, when the national average was between 25 and 30%. Unemployment and impoverishment had fostered a transformation in the life styles of the towns mainly working-class families, and in their childrens insertion at school. The school I focused my work on was particularly valued and well-liked by the local population. This was probably due to the fact that it had been the first primary school in the area, that the local community had spared no effort in its creation, and that, by the end of the 1980s, it had achieved a level of prestige that set it apart from the other State primary schools in the town. But as of the end of the 1980s, this situation changed considerably, as a result of the disorganisation suffered in all of the countrys educational institutions. Budget reductions, uncontrolled funding and legal, organisational and administrative reforms in the educational system were among the causes for this disarray. The result was broken links between schools and families, the disappearance of teacher authority, and a general loss of value within educational institutions. The meeting with Debora, mentioned in the introduction, was the first clue I had to the vital role of children in reaching an understanding of this process. Her brief account, I suddenly realised, was of major importance to the topic I was researching, not only in terms of the event itself and the silence surrounding it, but also because it was a child who had related it to me. Reading my notes and reports including dialogues among children, I realised that they provided a different perspective on some situations and filled in the blanks in adults accounts. This was probably because children, like ethnographers, adopt a magpie attitude to information, picking up anything that looks interesting (Waldorff 2008, 9). It was this that encouraged me to think seriously about ways of incorporating childrens viewpoints. Furthermore, this discovery came at a time when I was experiencing great difficulty in breaking through school boundaries, with my works tending to remain encapsulated within the school framework. This experimental ethnographical work with children allowed me to break through school limits in a completely unexpected way and to incorporate the school into the community and society. This also gave children a chance to articulate extra-scholastic knowledge, thus achieving an important aim in formal education. I was further encouraged by the impressions of researchers who had already worked in this fashion: Mary Ellen Goodman (1967/1972), who set out in search of social conscience in her interviews with North American and Japanese children; Christine Toren (1993), who thought that understanding the way Fijian children formed their knowledge of the world was essential in order to analyse key features of adult life; Jan Nespor (1997), who stressed the importance of his debates with children in understanding the political, cultural and economic powers that infiltrated the practices of the Thurber School. This was all part of the growing trend towards research on and with children in Sociology and Anthropology, lending them a major social role.3 I took this trend as a benchmark for my own experience.

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D. Milstein

So it was that I decided to take up field work with children, organised in such a way as to discover and register their opinions of life in their town and school. The result was to be a reflection of their views of a social world ruled by the feelings, speech and the actions of adults. I formed a small group of pupils from the school seven the first year and six the second to act as collaborators, interlocutors, interviewers, participating observers and writers. The children cooperated by relating facts and situations, giving me their impressions and points of view, sharing everyday experiences with me, walking the streets of their town with me, interviewing adults and other children, and reading and commenting on the interviews and recordings taken at the different meetings. With all of this information, they created two booklets, one for each group. In conducting this task within the school, I was required to institutionalise the work as a childrens educational resource. I had to come up with a programme and obtain authorisation from school authorities. It was bearing this in mind that I designed the activity as a workshop that I coordinated, involving only a small group of children between the ages of 10 and 14. The workshops took place outside of school hours over a total of eight weeks and they were not compulsory. This helped me present a format in which we could develop our knowledge of the field work and of what we wanted to find out in a collective, home-grown way. I introduced myself as coordinator, stressing that if a situation should arise in which I needed to intervene as an adult, I would do so on a personal rather than institutional level (Fine and Sandstrom 1988, 29). The children and I met as a group once or twice a week and activities lasted between two and four hours each time. We met during weekends and afternoons, when classes were over. Project development came in three main stages. The first was devoted to group field work training, the second to gathering information and the third to processing the information and writing it up. I use the word training here to mean preparation and practice. Developing a task as a group implied getting to know each other, merging as a team, sharing interests and finding appropriate means of communication. Practice involved activities aimed at learning how to observe, to take photographs, to ask and answer questions and to tell and listen. Informationgathering included such activities as taking walks and visiting places, taking photos, conducting and recording interviews, reading the transcripts of the recordings and emphasising the most interesting findings. It also involved looking through the photos, sharing anecdotes and suggesting image selections. All of the first groups activities took place between September and December 2004. I focused the research on the thoughts of the neighbours concerning the town and the school, and on what town and school life were like previously and at present. At the first meetings, we discussed the places we would visit, the people we would interview and the tasks each of us would carry out. Our first group task consisted of drawing a map of the neighbourhood as group members perceived it. This activity took four sessions, giving members the opportunity to discuss what each of them knew and to include me in their discussions. In this way, a work dynamic emerged in which each of us found his or her role and developed an approach to understanding their living space. During these first meetings we also chose the following places to visit: the town square, the Voluntary Firemens Association and neighbours homes.

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Ethnography and Education

The first place we visited was the square opposite the school. We went there several afternoons on weekends, when there was a street market. There, the children walked, played, shopped, talked to the workers, took photos and interviewed people. Most adults I had talked to considered this square to be a dangerous place. The children were aware of this view, but had a more complex perception of the place. By choosing the square as a privileged place in which to meet people from the neighbourhood, they were discrediting the adult idea of undifferentiated danger. When we actually visited the square together, they explained why some parts of it were dangerous, while others could be safe and enjoyable. This differentiation between one sector of the square and another suggested certain questions for interviews with adults, who generally admitted this was true. However, most adult accounts made reference to a past when the square wasnt dangerous at all and to a present in which danger was everywhere because of the behaviour of some groups of youths, the things they did, and so on. The people and items found in the square were undeniably similar for adults and children alike, but their perceived order and meanings for them were clearly different. I have no intention of explaining this paradox in detail, but do indeed wish to point out that the most obvious explanations for these perceptions lie in the different spatial and temporal frames of reference that exist between adults and children, and in the relative weight of their personal experiences. The adults made a distinction between a safe past and a dangerous present. They made use of a time reference to generically describe the physical and social aspects a place. In their eyes, their childhood memories were better than the present. The children, for their part, set out clear limits within the square, separating danger from safety, but always in the present, and assessing each area in accordance with their own experiences. As a result, my anthropological research was enriched by the different interpretations attributed to the square and the dialogue arising from these interpretations. The way in which this dialogue became part of the work that the group of children conducted is reflected, as I will show later, in the texts produced during the last stage of the ethnographical process. As in the case of the square, differences in points of view between adults and children also cropped up in other key issues regarding the social life of this community such as family, work and social classes and so demonstrated just how fruitful the dialogue between them could be in developing the research. What this reveals is the potential of the reflexive nature of the childrens contributions, in their role as participants in the research process, whenever we accept the challenge posed by a process of interaction, differentiation and reciprocity between our reflexivity and theirs (Guber 2001, 53). This is also linked to the discussion opened by Fabian (1983, 2007) of the time shared between the anthropologist and his/her interlocutors. By bringing the use of Time into the mix as a key category in the anthropological conceptualisation of the relationships between Us and Others, Fabian developed a critical analysis as to how hegemonic Anthropologies defined and constructed their target the Other denying the fact that Anthropologys Other is, ultimately, other people who are contemporaries (Fabian 1983, 143). In the case of this work carried out with children, the comparison between their way of using Time and that of the other interlocutors adults allowed me to think in terms of the coevalness that Fabian proposes, in at least two major orientations: on the one hand, as a means of distancing the work from such dichotomous conceptions as past versus present, and

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D. Milstein

on the other, as a means of experiencing the possibilities of a kind of [ethnographic] praxis in which the Knower cannot claim ascendancy over the Known (nor, for that matter, one Knower over another) (Fabian 1983, 164). Nor, I would also suggest, one Known over another. Furthermore, children also enriched their ways of learning: they experienced a different way of acquiring knowledge from the one that was most common in the classes. The learning process was empirical and they constructed the final account from their own selection of what they had seen, heard and experienced. This placed them, like the researchers, in a position of highest authority (Waldorff 2008, 11). In addition, the experience opened up the possibility of including several points of view on the same subject or phenomenon, in opposition to the prevailing trend in scholastic education that maintains a sole version of the knowledge in which children are supposed to be interested. This clearly introduces some novelty in the students role. The second group was formed in August 2005 with only three members remaining the same and I worked with them until November. The process was similar to the one for the previous group, in terms of the aim of discovering and registering different points of view on life in the town and school, the working style, the time employed and the tasks and activities carried out. The main difference was that, from the outset, we chose to gather accounts and opinions from other children. Members of the group interviewed other pupils at their school and at other schools, as well as children who didnt go to school at all. Some interviews took place in the school, others in the square, at a shopping centre or in their homes. The views of the adults around them particularly family members and neighbours, came through in the childrens dialogues, conversations and meetings, as well as in the topics they chose to talk about. Politics, for instance, came up in several conversations about other topics. On one occasion, comments emerged surrounding street advertising for legislative elections that took place that October. The children discussed the conversations they had heard at home, accusations against the different candidates, television commentaries and the many jokes that had gone around. On other occasions, the topic came up because some children mentioned that their relatives worked in politics, or because of comments about relatives or acquaintances who were in a Plan (a government unemployment benefit programme) and the person distributing the benefits said they had to vote for Cristina.4 Contrary to what had happened regarding the square, in this case the opinions of children and adults alike were in agreement. All information collected converged in a common opinion about politics that I heard repeated time and again inside and outside of the school, in this town and in many others, and also in the media. A group of Brazilian researchers reported similar findings when they conducted a research project with students from 24 public schools in Rio de Janeiro to find out how children saw the city. Among other conclusions, they remarked that, in this regard, students shared the points of view of the citys adults. Their letters and drawings contained no innovative features, but reflected relatively conventional perspectives (Vogel, Vogel, and Leitao 1995, 134). Among the different opinions of the children there was, nevertheless, a consensus based on a shared perception that politics existed as a separate entity that had no place in ordinary daily life. This becomes quite clear from the comments of two girls:

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Ethnography and Education


Politics is what Chiche and Cristina do. Its also what Auntie Ana does, who is like Cristinas secretary over here. I know about my uncle who works in politics. He hands out milk. He receives milk and hands it out. He hands out other things too. The Picketers dont. They complain and sometimes mess around, but a few of them are in politics.

There could be no doubt that, at least in terms of what politics was and implied, the opinions of these children expressed the general opinion, which was that politics had to do with a restricted group of Government employees and the people linked to them. Normally we assume that there are certain issues that children do not know about or are not interested in, but major learning can take place on such issues without teachers even realising it at the time. My experience confirms that ethnography should be a good tool for understanding elements of learning (Waldorff 2008, 13).

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3. Childrens ways of telling During the ethnographical process, the children forged perspectives, perceptions and views that were partially transcribed in two booklets, one finished in December 2004 and the other in November 2005. The existence of these booklets must not, however, lead to a simplistic view of the processes that created them, in which written accounts played only a partial role. In order to explain these processes, I will divide them into stages according to the characteristics of the accounts involved and the activities conducted. These stages took place before and during the composition of the booklets.

3.1. Oral accounts These were situations in which everything happened through oral and body language. The basic actions were recounting, debating, giving opinions, asking questions, listening, laughing, gesticulating, observing, registering and moving closer or further away. These situations took place during meetings, outings and walks. I took notes to the extent that this was possible, since these were highly enriching experiences. The fragments that I gathered while working with the first group of children, for instance, provided a highly varied set of opinions on what had happened when the children had a teacher sacked. I had heard part of this story from Debora, at the beginning of my field work, but it was difficult to get teachers and mothers to talk about the issue. During the different research activities, however, the children sometimes mentioned situations or attitudes related to this event and I realised how important it was for the topic I was researching. By the time I had completed an analysis of the events, I realised that the children had been protagonists in a political intervention within the school, whereby, through collective pressure brought to bear on the authorities, the teachers suspension was achieved. The childrens accounts of this and other events became fundamental to my understanding of the extent to which and in what original ways politics formed part of everyday school life.

D. Milstein

3.2. Accounts in images 1 In these cases, everything was expressed through drawings and photographs. The basic actions were drawing, painting, map reading and photography. The photographs were taken individually. The children took pictures of people and places wherever and whenever they wanted to. Maps were drawn up by the group as a whole, as one of their first tasks. Map details were completed, however, during the final meetings, in order to illustrate the booklets. Creating these maps gave me a chance to see the town through the childrens eyes and to take note of specific reference points, something that was particularly surprising with the second group. They took the land registry map printed up by the town council as a reference for their map of Villa La Florida. Their own drawing was enlarged and divided into four sectors explained as follows:
In Villa La Florida some places are fun and some are boring. The centre is where the square is. We call it that because its the best known part of town. Then, there is the socalled shantytown, where many people live, down near the stream. The Park neighbourhood is called the insiders, because its very quiet and the people live behind locked doors. Then, there are the children that go to other schools, and the shopping area, where we shop.

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This map, divided up in such an original way, helped me to understand the place itself and the social relationships involved, with their important influence on school life. The social stratification of Villa La Florida was made patent in this drawing through the distinctions made between the people from the centre, those from the shantytown and those from the insider section. In this way, these children positioned themselves at the centre of their world, and differentiated themselves from those living in the poorer area near the stream, and those living in the richer area known as the Park neighbourhood. This way of seeing things placing themselves at the centre should not be understood as a mere stage of psychological development common to childhood. Rather, we should understand that their social experiences and their relative competences as social actors must always be seen as contextualised, rather than determined, by the process of physiological and psychological change (Christensen and James 2002, 176). In other words, the children develop reflexive thinking that, just as with adults, contains perceptive distortions that, nevertheless, take nothing away from the value of their explanations. On the contrary, just as in the case of the map, these explanations can cast light on a highly relevant aspect of the common sense of teachers and family members.

3.2.1. Illustration 1 3.2.1.1. Written accounts 1. The children received the transcriptions I made of interview recordings and of some group meetings, and read them, pointing out what they considered to be important. They discussed the criteria for choosing what was relevant, showing the fragments and explaining why they thought they were interesting. They debated the topics that emerged from those reading sessions, outlined topics for the booklets, organised an index, underlined fragments with different colours, according to the topic, and, finally, chose a title for the book. The first one was called: Discovering something else. Reading the history of our

Ethnography and Education

neighbourhood and our school and the second one was called: This is the way we see La Florida! 3.2.1.2. Written accounts 2. The 2005 text also included some writing done by the children. After listing the topics in the index, some of them wrote comments on each subject and these texts were included word for word in the book. Only during the last two meetings of the group did certain of the girls write short sentences for the book. In some cases these belated contributions were highly significant. A comment by one of the girls on the topic of Families, for instance, helped me to understand a great deal more about the children who had collaborated with me:
My family are so hard-working that they dont have time for me and my brothers, and now that Ive joined the anthropologist and my friends, they are like a second family to me.

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Priscilla Alderson (2002, 244) argues that social research can contribute to the debate about childrens consent by providing evidence of childrens competence in research. The comment above is an interesting example of competence. It was made by a girl who actively participated in the research work. Towards the end of the process, she conclusively reaffirmed her confidence and corroborated her consent. In doing research work with children, we must bear in mind that consent should never be understood as a linear process granted from the outset, as if simply arising from a series of prior agreements. On the contrary, consent must be maintained, constructed and adjusted over the course of the process and we must be ready to face a variety of possibilities: consent may grow and deepen, but it can also wane and become limited. It has been my experience that, as children discovered the value and importance of the task that they were carrying out, their confidence grew, as did their interest in learning and sharing their knowledge with the group as a whole, including the researcher in charge.

3.3. Accounts in images 2 Photographs taken were developed and copies were made of all of the pictures. The children sorted them into different groups: for them, for their families, for the school, for gifts, for the book, etc. My participation in some of this sorting was decisive. Based on economic considerations, I made them reduce the number of photographs for the book. Working with them in this process was a very interesting experience that once again led me to discover some unexpected meanings. An example of this was selection of photographs for the topic of the square in the first book. The children decided to include pictures in which the square looked very pretty. They all liked one with the Virgin of the Rosary Altar in the middle, and another with some flowers in the foreground. The peculiar thing about this last picture was that while those flowers seemed to be part of the square, in reality they belonged to a street florist. When I reminded them that those plants were only there when the vendor came, they laughed and cleverly insisted that they wanted that picture in the book. It is important to point out that the lack of plants and flowers in the square had come up as a general concern in many conversations and interviews.

10 D. Milstein By selecting this photo, the children resolved their general concern, while trying to produce the desired impression in the reader. Just as Denis Beach argued in referring to visual montage and research writing, the children juxtaposed the image with the sections of texts, in order to illustrate an association of ideas which press beyond surface representations (2006a, 97).

3.3.1. Illustration 2 3.3.1.1. Written accounts 3. I transcribed the selected segments and fit them into previously established topics. I transcribed the index and printed a booklet in half A4 size. The children read this second transcription, corrected the errors, removed fragments and chose where to put the photographs. Finally, with the cooperation of a proofreader, the first version of both books was printed on ordinary paper and the children presented it at the schools Tradition Day celebration. The first book, titled Discovering something else. Reading the history of our neighbourhood and our school, was divided into five chapters: Discovering the square, Firemens anecdotes, Fernando: our patriarch, Our school, and How the neighbourhood feels. The second book, called This is the way we see La Florida, was divided into six parts: Schools, Places, Families, Parents jobs, Politics and Horror legends. Both books were small in size and number of pages. They were printed on ordinary white paper. All pictures were in colour. The dust jackets were illustrated and the title was printed on them. The names of the authors were listed on the title page along with the publishers details (as the printing was amateur and without the intervention of a publishing house, the school appeared as publisher). The index was on the second page. Details about the authors were at the back of the book. In terms of genre, the booklets do not fall under the category of ethnographical texts. Nor are they testimonials, despite the fact that they are made up of fragments of oral testimonies. And they are not school compositions. If we consider the task of an ethnographer to be that of forming a link between texts, a craftsman who builds his discourse from pre-existing text fragments (Segato 2007, 306), then these texts have been created with an ethnographers attitude. The attempt to register different views of a small town, using what we might call an ethnographical present, is evident throughout the book. There is a clear relationship between the fragments of discourse provided by the children themselves and jointly with others in the third person and the organisation of these fragments so as to provide intelligible versions of local social life. The passages selected have a descriptive and narrative style, achieved by combining written accounts and pictures, in an attempt to transmit a comprehensive view of local social life. In the style of true ethnographers, the children produced data by piecing together whatever they found available. Their texts were, in the end, very much like a collage (Beach 2006a, 97). During all of this process, attention was drawn to:
(. . .) the creative process of using language in helping free alternative creations of meaning, by accepting that how we see the world depends both upon what is actually, really, materially present to and in it and our disposition to form beliefs about it . . . (Beach 2006b, 90).

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Ethnography and Education

11

Here, I am making use of the claim supported by Dennis Beach regarding the development of critical ethnographic skills particularly of representation to ponder the possibilities for childrens learning by using a combination of verbal accounts, pictures and photography. In other words, work with language performed by children expanded their communication with and interpretation of the world. 4. Discussion Sonja Grover supports the need for real social research involving children in an article in which she writes that:
What is clear from the academic study of children is that children have been virtually excluded as active participants in the research process; treated rather as objects of study. When children are permitted in those rare cases to become active participants telling their own story in their own way, the research experience is often personally moving and meaningful and the data provided rich and complex. (2004, 84)

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In my case, the decision to include children as colleagues and interlocutors afforded me perspectives that enriched different aspects of my work. The accounts collected during the ethnographical work with the children, in different formats oral, written and in images taught me many things. I will try to put some of these things into words, in order to reflect on the need to take into account the collective interpretations of the children in their field work. I will also attempt to state the relevance of this in terms of formal education. The outings with the group of children broadened my opportunities to participate and helped me to create the distance that ethnographical work requires. The way children visited and observed their surroundings produced an unexpected effect that is best described as a denaturalisation of space and time. Whenever I managed to share their views, I realised that the panorama around me changed. In all probability, the difference in size changed the perspective, the speed in their movements reduced distances, and above all, the specific experiences of time and space changed the order of my perceptions. Being with them was a magnificent experience and enormous fun, particularly when I managed to melt into and perceive the surroundings in the same way they did. Reading my notes from those moments, when I was no longer with the children, was a formidable exercise in distancing. In my activities with them, chance overruled predictability. With them, I learned the importance of flexibility and of having an open mind in ethnographical research. I also learned that this didnt mean underestimating planning. On the contrary, it increased the need to go into the field with an organised and written set of ideas, questions, assumptions, places, times and methods for collecting data. This is because only something that already has a shape can be modified. It was important for the group of children to know exactly what we would be doing each day that we worked together, although, at the end of the day, what mattered most was what had actually been done, and often these were two very different things. But, these changes didnt divert the children from their path. By including the students experiences and points of view, and giving them the same status as the adults, which was not how I had planned and conducted the first few months of field work, I realised how much my research until then had been

12 D. Milstein focused on the adults point of view. I had previously described my research as an adult issue, believing that the opinions of adults would show me the political side of the school and its environment. There was a distortion here arising from a biased starting point. In seeking to understand the changes in everyday school life I had chosen to overestimate the adults behaviour, values, opinions and interpretations and to underestimate those of the children. This adult-centred distortion not only took as natural the underestimation of what children did and said, giving the main role to the adults, but also sought to explain childrens behaviour in adult terms. This distortion was aggravated by my taking certain assumptions as valid, based solely on the fact that adults were once children and were often in their company (Fine and Sandstrom 1988, 35). Assumptions were thus based on the way we, as adults, interact with children:
To adopt that basic stance means breaking with an array of common adult assumptions: that childrens daily actions are mostly trivial, worthy of notice only when they seem cute or irritating; that children need to be actively managed or controlled; that children are relatively passive recipients of adult training and socialisation. (Thorne 1993, 13)

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By not writing about the childrens experiences including their perceptions, impressions and interpretations I was sharing opinions such as those described by Thorne and, as a result, I was omitting my own experiences. I realised that not seeing others or keeping them invisible, not only hid a part of reality from me, but also determined that part of me, as a researcher, was also hidden. This change in my social, emotional, physical and theoretical position allowed me to face challenges, while producing new experiences and broadening my powers of reflexivity. Ignoring childrens opinions on social and cultural life forms part of the set of beliefs, assumptions and certainties that is built into the historical and social concept of childhood in Western culture. In his ground breaking and emblematic study of childhood, historian Philippe Aries (1973) coined the phrase, the invention of ` childhood to explain this artificial distinction between the adult and childhood worlds. This distinction between the two social worlds that are manifest in a school leads us to develop an attitude towards children, and a relationship with them, that tends to take away their individuality. According to Ferreira (2004, 21), appreciating childrens capacity to symbolise and the production and the organisation of their actions, beliefs and values, within systems of knowledge, and emotional feelings, helps us to overcome our universal concept of childhood, which belies the diversity of infancies and social experiences in children. On the whole, we tend to refer to children as a relatively homogeneous group. This leads not only to our minimising their individualities but also to our oversimplication of the complexity of their narratives. This is mainly due to the fact that the things we value in childhood are not often held in particularly high esteem at a social level. We value their sensitivity, affection, emotionality, naivety and spontaneity, but we hardly ever appreciate their rationality and understanding. Not only do we fail to acknowledge the existence of multiple childhoods and individualities, but we also value children in ways which at the same time tend to discredit them. In our role as observers of school life, this builds a wall inside us that stops us from listening seriously and understanding childrens opinions and

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considerations. It also causes us to reduce what children do or say to what is generally termed infantile culture or subculture. It is worthwhile recalling the word infantile comes from in-falere meaning he/she who does not speak which implies subsuming or silencing childrens voices. In terms of formal education, the ideas that I am developing refer to some of the most fruitful intuitions of the pedagogical movement. They form part of the new education which inspired many of the school-life renewal experiences that took place in the early decades of the twentieth century. Upon accepting the central role of children in the teachinglearning process, there were two problems at the heart of this educational movement: how to integrate practical co-operative activities with academic subject matter and how to connect the subject matter and learning methods so as to provide continuity throughout the curriculum and between that curriculum and the out-of-school experience (Waks 2001, 387). Although Leonard Waks was referring specifically to the ideas of John Dewey, his summary also includes those of Maria Montessori, Ovidio Decroly, Edouard Claparede, Francisco ` Ferrer and Celestin Freinet, among others. The importance of the work of these educationalists despite their limitations and incongruities is that they sensed that children had their own motivations for interacting with the social world they were living in, that they took childrens viewpoints into account as a requirement for teaching and that they criticised traditional adult-centred perspectives, which they considered negative for the child. It is often pointed out that the new education was a bit excessive in its idealisation of childhood; however, it also could be argued that its proponents might not have been bold enough and that many of their experiences sought to lessen the implicit consequences of this pedagogical discovery of childhood. An example is provided by certain experiences in which children not only took part in the process of knowledge transmission, but also in the production and writing up of the results. My work with these children brings back to the present the possibility of recovering ways of having children produce knowledge, as part of the school education process. 5. Conclusions When we manage to recognise children as social players with the necessary capacity to interpret the social world, daily life becomes denser, more complete and richer in meaning. As Allison James reflects:
This is a view of children as seekers after social knowledge and makers of social relations, of childhood as the social and temporal context of childrens daily lives which shapes who they are and will be in the same moment that, as children, they help construct what form the institution of childhood will take in any particular culture. (1999, 100)

This does not imply giving childrens opinions priority over others, but it does mean including them as part of the world we are researching. In order to do that, we must constantly control our tendency to either romanticise or demonise children and, in the end, to render them invisible. Including childrens viewpoints in my ethnographical research was no doubt vital to understanding aspects of school politicisation that would otherwise have remained hidden. Their views provided distance from

14 D. Milstein what one could term the official conscience pervading adult opinion. This distance was possible, among other reasons, because the children had not completely incorporated some of the conventions that make up adult discourse in a certain time and place. The booklets created by both groups of children brought together a polyphonic set of stories and comments, along with the opinions of adults, youths and children from various origins, families and occupations. From an ethnographic starting point, this could simply have been a strategy to confer the status of independent speakers as well as a sense of unity upon the collaborators (Clifford 1983/1992, 167). Or it could be seen as a way of confirming and restating the multiplicity of the authors of the field notes. However, incorporating as co-writers people who are not usually considered authorised interpreters, gives a different meaning to these texts. It is a way of legitimising childrens viewpoints concerning the social and cultural life in which they take part in this case, that of the school. In the end, creating horizontal relationships with the children unlike those they had with teachers and adults at home was indeed difficult. The experience, however, was immeasurably enriching for me as an anthropologist, since it gave me the opportunity to denaturalise the roles of teacher and mother, my supposed familiarity of school life, and my relationships with children. Acknowledgements
The first version of this essay was presented at the Oxford Conference of Ethnography and Education in September 2008. I would like to thank Pat Thomson (University of Nottingham), Michael Higgins (Universidad de Oaxaca) and Beth Cross (University of Glasgow), for their comments during the session. The suggestions of Geoff Troman and those of the journals two reviewers who read this text for acceptance also contributed to improving the article. Ana Garay translated this text into English and Bruce Thompson took part in its edition. Writer/translator Dan Newland carried out a final style re-write of the entire article.

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Notes
1. All State primary schools in Argentina have a number and a name. This one is named after the Malvinas Islands, which in Britain are called The Falklands. 2. This research was for my PhD thesis in Social Anthropology conducted at the University of Brasilia and supervised by Rita Laura Segato, PhD. 3. On the emersion of anthropology and sociology of the childhood: Christensen and James (2002), James, Jenks, and Prout (2004) and Qvortrup (1994). 4. This is a reference to the current President of the country Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner who was a senatorial candidate for Buenos Aires Province in 2005.

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