British Academy Postdoctoral Fellowship: The emergence of literacy in very young children: place and materiality in a more-than- human world

I am delighted to announce I have received funding from the British Academy, through their Postdoctoral Fellowship scheme, for a major three year project on young children’s literacies practices. This study will investigate the role of place, materiality and the body in the emergence of literacy in young children between the ages of 12 and 36 months. Employing ethnographic and post-qualitative methodologies, the research will bring a posthuman lens to thinking about children’s communication in a more-than-human-world, by paying attention to the role of bodies, places, animals, children, familiar and unfamiliar adults, material objects and affects in very young children’s literacy practices. In doing so, this study will be amongst the first major ethnographic research projects to connect posthuman theories of early childhood with the growing calls to foreground the body and materiality in early childhood literacy.

Working collaboratively with families in a multicultural urban context, I hope to build a picture of young children’s language, literacy and communication practices in the everyday contexts of their lives. Working predominantly outside of day care settings, in situations where children are with parents, carers, and community members is important to the study. This is because more studies (recently) have looked at young children’s literacy practices in day care settings, yet if we acknowledge the importance of the more-than-human in human practices (including children’s language and literacies), an account of how and what children do cannot be separated from an account of places, objects, atmospheres and bodies with which they occur. Literacy and language practices are a produced not by an individual, but by a coming together of certain situations, contexts and materialdiscursive entanglements.

This project will contribute to a small and emerging body of work taking seriously the need to decentre humans, in order to better consider the role place and materiality in young children’s literacy practices (Kuby et al, 2015; Somerville, 2015). For the last couple of years I have participated in a collective called Naming the World, researching literacy, sustainability and young children through a posthuman lens in Australia, Finland and UK. Therefore, I am indebted to the members of Naming the World, particularly Professor Margaret Somerville and Dr Pauliina Rautio, for their mentorship and conversations that have shaped my thinking to this point. My Fellowship will be hosted at Education and Social Research Institute at Manchester Metropolitan University, a space with a particularly strong track record of new materialist and post-qualitative approaches to research with young children. I feel very lucky to be continuing conversations with colleagues here, and to be mentored by Professor Maggie MacLure as part of the fellowship.

The distinct space I hope my research project will occupy within all of this exciting thinking is firstly, a focus on very young children. The participants in the study will be between 12 and 36 months. This age range is much less researched than over threes, but has always been fascinating for me because responses of children this age tend to disrupt assumptions, particularly about how research methods might work. Secondly, the project will situate me in a local community in northern England for the next three years. I’m really hoping to understand how posthuman literacies work across the places young children find themselves entangled in. Beyond classrooms or daycare settings, what might posthuman literacies look like in playgroups, streets, homes, bus stops, or supermarkets?

The Fellowship awards have just been announced, however my project began in October 2017, so my fieldwork and some very early thoughts on what this project might have to say about posthuman early childhood literacies have already begun to take shape. I will try to share more thoughts from the project in future months as my thinking develops.

What I’m reading now:

Avineri N et al 2015 Invited Forum: Bridging the “Language Gap.” Journal of Linguistic Anthropology 25(1).

Kuby C and Rowsell J (2017) Early Literacy and the Posthuman: Pedagogies and Methodologies. Special Issues of the Journal of Early Childhood Literacy 17 (3).

MacLure M 2013 Researching without representation? Language and materiality in post-qualitative methodology. International Journal of Qualitative Studies in Education 26(6).

Olsson, L. 2013 Taking Children’s Questions Seriously: the need for creative though. Global Studies of Childhood 3 (3).

Somerville M 2015 Emergent literacies in ‘the land of do anything you want’. In M. Somerville and M. Green (eds.) Children, Place and Sustainability. Palgrave.

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