These discourses of propriety tend to focus around the idea that children must develop properly in order to be included in particular categories of successful performance as citizens. A plethora of discursive and non-discursive practices have contributed to Australian government understandings of healthy childhood development, at-risk groups, and productivity. An important aspect of discourse analysis involves having a comprehensive understanding of these discursive and non-discursive practices Fairclough, Fairclough provides a five-step analytical framework for conducting critical discourse analysis and the analysis of the Strategy Document undertaken in this paper has involved working through the first two steps of this process.
Specifically, the authors read extensively around critical understandings of childhood development and education. Ideas and theories from a variety of authors become tools throughout the analysis to identify discourses presented within the Strategy Document. The concepts and ideas presented are defined throughout the article, whenever referenced.
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For clarity, a brief description of the theories and authors referenced follows. The authors initially use Foucault and applications of his work as guides to identify the discourses from the Strategy Document. Responsibilisation is referenced in respect to the understanding within the Strategy Document that individual and national goals are aligned. This notion will be addressed through an analysis of policy discourses about healthy childhood development within the Strategy Document.
Such analysis requires an identification of inconsistencies surrounding childhood development within the Strategy Document, particularly in relation to the paradox of progress COAG, ; Stanley; ; Stanley et al. By examining the discourses in this Strategy Document and by referring to other relevant documents and literature, the authors use critical social theory to develop an understanding of the consequences of the inferences in this policy document for children and families.
There is also an alignment with the work of Bowe et al.
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There is an argument that the Strategy Document equates healthy childhood development with a set of outcomes including attainment of education, employment and future productivity and, in doing so, creates the idea of proper childhood development. Although none of these suggestions appear unreasonable and, in fact, look very attractive, it is the idea that there might be judgement about child development that prompts some concern. It is how such measures are determined and how particular understandings are categorised, which should be open to investigation.
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Moreover, the idea that policy can be implemented in ways that categorise what is best or better can also prove to be problematic. In most cases, the main focus of most policy reform tends to be in the search for something better and the Strategy Document is no exception. In and of itself, the idea of searching for something better appears to be a reasonable one. However, it is not the sentiment in the document but the consequences these sentiments produce, which tend to be problematic.
Thus, when focussing on policy that is seeking to produce better outcomes, it is important that a precise examination of the consequences is considered. Such an examination is not meant to situate policy as right or wrong. Rather, this work intends to understand policy reform as always problematic and so needing to be opened up for scrutiny Bowe et al. An example of such issues has been highlighted by the seminal work of Deborah Tyler While not focussing specifically on policy, Tyler highlights the consequences of scrutinising children and families in the search for better outcomes.
Early childhood development policies: The evidence and the research agenda
Tyler uses a historical analysis of child development literature to demonstrate how a certain type of citizen can be produced and examines the mechanisms used to work towards such an outcome. Tyler argues that child development literature has gradually promoted the virtues of the kindergarten as a mechanism for directing children toward rationality, autonomy and self-regulation.
Alongside rationality, the better child would move steadily toward total independence by taking every opportunity to exercise greater control and autonomy. The child was capable of self-regulation, and to realise its full potential must develop this capacity.
Tyler, : She suggests that certain non-coercive techniques were used to achieve this and that these became part of the practices within these kindergarten organisations.
These centres implemented practice, which aimed to produce children as tools to meet national goals. According to Tyler ,. These centres, which were examples of excellence in early childhood education and care, were used as observation centres for both staff and prospective students. The children in these centres became objects of surveillance by being subjected to the normalising gaze, as the object of observation and evaluation by outside organisations Macfarlane, This ensured the constitution of a certain type of child, whose behaviour was regulated by the organisation of space, the values of the teacher and the image of the child as hope for the future Macfarlane, The Lady Gowrie centres continue to operate today and still hold reputations as quality early childhood education and care centres within the early childhood community.
The surveillance, normalisation and individualisation of young children are examples of how non-coercive techniques can be used to create a certain type of citizen Rose, , If individuals or groups of individuals are continually subjected to techniques of surveillance, then unruly behaviour is made more visible Macfarlane, As Foucault attests, discourses are systems of language use and, at the same time, systems of power relations.
What is significant about this work is that it makes it possible to see that policy works in a similar way in its search for something better. Policy produces particular understandings of truth by normalising certain behaviours. It is with such ideas in mind that the examination of the Strategy Document proceeds. It is important to highlight that recent research has critically analysed and identified problematics in Australian early years policy. Additionally, Millei suggests that policies with this perspective of childhood may, or may not encourage inclusive, equitable service and practice.
The Executive Summary and Chapter 1: The Case for Change, provide the rationale for the early years policy direction as described within the Strategy Document. The inference in these statements is that both individual and national goals are aligned. Such an idea espouses the notion that there is harmony between the goals of the nation and the goals of the individual.
This term has become the means by which particular values, beliefs and ethics are promoted to the population as desirable qualities Macfarlane, Consequently, the civic-minded citizen self regulates and becomes responsibilised, that is, comes to understand this process as the proper way to function Rose, It is through this process that individuals are subjected to technologies of government Rose, , thereby becoming agents in particular and desirable ways.
Particular understandings of best and better are at play here. What individuals must do is follow these particular understandings and exist in harmony with them in order for their best start in life to be achieved. In terms of child development and progress, this means that children must develop properly according to normalised understandings and that parents must do all that they can to enable this proper development.
He asserts that, in the USA, the notion of a community is central to the notion of progress of both schooling and nation. However, Popkewitz indicates that while new emphasis is placed on diversity and equity, difference continues to be maintained by producing new sets of distinctions and differences that exclude particular categories of families, placing them outside what normally indicates success. The idea that healthy childhood development is affiliated with individuals and communities that are responsibilised and contribute to the economic goals of the nation seems reasonable.
However, problems occur when parents are unable to contribute to this idea of progress for a variety of reasons. According to Bourdieu , , individuals engage in social and systemic practice like players in a game and will try to adhere to the rules of the game. Moreover, Bourdieu , states that for individuals to participate successfully in the game of social engagement, they must possess particular forms of capital, namely economic, social and cultural capital.
Such a view highlights the fact that if these rules of the game are beyond the reach of particular individuals, for example, when individuals are part of disadvantaged families, then the economic, cultural or social contexts of these families might well prevent them from being able to reach normalised understandings of proper development. It is unlikely that the social and systemic conditions which produce these inequalities will be scrutinised appropriately.
Therefore, the individual families will be held accountable regardless of context. The imbalances in the systems that hamper this process, such as unequal access to wealth and resources, will not necessarily be addressed. This emphasis on economic productivity also situates families and children outside of healthy development, and has various effects on those labelled at-risk.
As clarified by Macfarlane , in this instance the consequences of labelling children and families at risk produces them as cases for intervention and works to further differentiate them as their development is no longer congruent with policy ideals. Such notions are demonstrated in the Strategy Document.
In Section 1. Furthermore, the Strategy Document is explicit in its identification of Indigenous children as a group for concern. Thus, the performance of both parents and children is held up for scrutiny and judged according to particular understandings of propriety. Parents are situated as cases for intervention and are therefore excluded from successful categories.
The consequences of such exclusion are that families who are already under pressure come under further pressure, making successful performance more difficult to attain. In policy documents such as the Strategy Document, outcomes can only be achieved through the implementation of a set of reforms concerning childhood education, care, wellbeing and health. In Chapter 1: The Case for Change, these reforms are highlighted as necessary to ensure that both families and children are supported to allow for positive outcomes for children, and current and future workforce participation COAG, In Australia, statements like those from the Strategy Document referenced in the paragraph above, indicate a strong focus on performativity Ball, , ; Macfarlane, , which is having very real organising effects for children and families Macfarlane, These organising effects are produced by what is believed to be true about success and propriety.
Policies such as the Strategy Document can either intentionally or unintentionally contribute to particular notions of performativity via the rhetoric used and also via the understandings that rhetoric produces. The analysis undertaken demonstrates that adherence to imperative discourses, even at a micro level, can produce multiple effects that can be highly problematic Macfarlane, By including education and a national set of educational standards within reforms, education becomes a means to encourage children to reach the level of responsibilisation and proper development, and to be economically competitive in a globalised world.
However, the affiliation of healthy child development with individual productivity and national economic goals in a global economy is problematic. Although such interventions can be viewed as a way to offer hope to disadvantaged communities, when linked with economic productivity, they can also be viewed as a means of controlling unruly sections of the community Popkewitz, The universal and inclusive practices of … reforms that speak about inclusion locate difference and incomplete elements, points and directions in the process of inclusion and exclusion.
The gesture is to make all children the same and on equal footing… [where] …hope overlaps with fears of the child whose characteristics are a threat to moral unity. Thus, children and families who do not meet normalised understandings of healthy or proper development are excluded from categories that signify successful performance as ethical citizens.
An example in Australia is the increase in health disparities between those with and without wealth, including birth weight and infant mortality, despite overall economic growth of the country Stanley, ; Stanley et al. The Strategy Document, which regards early childhood development and childhood health and wellbeing as mechanisms to ensure a productive workforce, proves the paradox of progress. That the wealthiest nations, nations with high gross domestic product GDP , have higher social inequalities than those who are less wealthy Stanley, , highlights how economic progress is not necessarily a means to ensuring health and wellbeing and a reduction in social inequalities across the nation.
While the Strategy Document may intend to support child and family health and wellbeing, it may well have the opposite unintended effect resulting in greater social inequalities. With this understanding, encouraging an increase in productivity through sound early childhood development will result in just that, an increase in productivity but not necessarily a reduction of inequalities or wellbeing for current and future generations.
Encouraging this increase in productivity also leads to issues around performativity Ball, , which produces its own consequences. Ball attests, that performativity:. The performances of individual subjects or organisations …encapsulate or represent the worth, quality or value of an individual or organisation within a field of judgement. The issue of who controls the field of judgement is crucial. Ball, : The notion of performativity as applied to the Strategy Document highlights the parameters of what healthy development looks like, stating that all families need to reach this normalised understanding of development so that the nation can prosper.
Performativity works to produce an understanding of the necessary levels of citizenry to which individuals should strive. There is an inference that a certain level of performativity from parents and children is necessary so that proper child development can occur, leading to successful citizenry for both the families and for the Australian community.
However, such levels of performativity have their own consequences for the children and families who seek to reach these suggested levels. Meadmore and McWilliam point to the consequences of performativity stating that:. Meadmore and McWilliam, : The issue of performativity is an important one in terms of developing an understanding of the position of families who do not have the necessary capital to attain particular levels of performance. Parents, particularly mothers, tend to view parenting as a rewarding and highly responsible undertaking Jenks, a.
To exist as improper infers failure at one of the most important responsibilities in life. An individual who abuses or neglects a child is viewed, in western societies, as particularly deviant. Improper parents, while not being categorised in the same way as abusers, are nonetheless determined to be failures in significant terms Macfarlane, Thus, parents who exploit this vulnerability by not performing properly in particular parenting roles are situated problematically Macfarlane, The anxiety that might result in such a process can be very debilitating and can lead to parents trying too hard, sometimes for little result.
Parent fatigue may best be understood by examining the concept in terms of the work of Bourdieu , This concept can also assist in explaining the existence of parent fatigue.
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