Reconceptualizing Early Childhood Care and Education

Critical Questions, New Imaginaries and Social Activism: A Reader

by Marianne N. Bloch (Volume editor) Beth Blue Swadener (Volume editor) Gaile S. Cannella (Volume editor)
©2014 Textbook X, 333 Pages
Series: Rethinking Childhood, Volume 50


Reconceptualizing Early Childhood Care and Education is a foundational text, which presents contemporary theories and debates about early education and child care in many nations. The authors selected are leading contributors in discussions about critical early childhood studies over the past twenty years; the editors are long-time scholars in the reconceptualizing early childhood movement. Audiences include students in graduate courses focused on early childhood and primary education, critical cultural studies of childhood, critical curriculum studies and critical theories that have been contested and debated and drawn from over the course of two decades.
The book is filled with recent scholarship by leading authors in the reconceptualization and rethinking of childhood studies and early childhood fields, who discuss foundational debates, new imaginaries in theory and practice and activist scholarship. A must-read for graduate students and professionals interested in beginning or continuing critical interrogations of current early childhood policy and reforms globally.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the Editors
  • About the book
  • Praise for Reconceptualizing Early Childhood Care and Education
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Contents
  • Acknowledgments
  • Introduction: Exploring Reconceptualist Histories and Possibilities
  • Background and Rationale
  • Foundational Writings and Issues
  • Autobiography and Activism
  • This Reader
  • Foundational Debates and Questions
  • Diverse Imaginaries
  • Social Action/Activisms
  • A Closing and an Invitation to Read and to Interact In/With This Book
  • References
  • Section I: Foundational Debates and Continuing Questions
  • Chapter One: Interrogating the Reconceptualizing Early Care and Education (RECE)—20 Years Along
  • Brief Overview of RECE’s Early Days/Years
  • The Reconceptualists
  • Trying to Rupture Theory, Methodology, Curriculum, and Policies in Early Childhood Education: 1991–1997
  • Rupturing Dominant Discourses in Theory/Research/Pedagogies/Policy in the Early 21st Century: Again—Scientific Rigor, Standards, and the Universal Child
  • RECE Turns Almost Twenty and Some of Us Are Getting Old(er)
  • Reform That Aims to Rupture Thinking and Action
  • Selected References
  • Notes
  • Chapter Two: Reconceptualizing the Early Childhood Curriculum: An Unaddressed Topic
  • What Vision of the Future Guides Curriculum Planning in Early Childhood?
  • What Should We Teach in the Early Childhood Curriculum?
  • Who Is Taught?
  • What Is the Relationship Between the Curriculum and Teaching?
  • Conclusion
  • References
  • Notes
  • Chapter Three: Reconceptualizing Early Childhood Research
  • Paradigm Conflicts
  • Crisis of Representation
  • Genre Bending
  • Post-Everything Inquiry
  • Legislated Positivism
  • Conclusions
  • References
  • Chapter Four: Through a Queer Lens: Recuperative Longings and the Reconceptualizing Past
  • Making a Place for Pleasure in Early Childhood Education
  • Advocating for Lives on the Edge
  • Speaking Truth to Power
  • References
  • Chapter Five: Still Waiting for the Revolution
  • Compulsory Retrospection
  • Nowhere to Grow?
  • The Troubled State of Early Education in the United States Today
  • A Third Way: The Emergence of Childhood Subjectivity Discursively
  • On Possible Lines of Rupture: Troubling Spectrality and Genealogical Filiation
  • Coda: Troubling Pedagogy
  • References
  • Notes
  • Chapter Six: Disciplining “Safe” Bodies in a Global Era of Child Panic: Implementing Techniques for Disciplining the Self
  • Stories From the Field
  • Dangerous Desire
  • Renaming Ourselves
  • Closing
  • References
  • Chapter Seven: Social Justice, Risk, and Imaginaries
  • Social Justice
  • Standards
  • Risk
  • Risk-as-Danger
  • Risk-as-Creativity
  • Risk and Professional Standards for Teachers
  • Risk and Teacher Education
  • Conclusion
  • References
  • Chapter Eight: What About Learning?
  • References
  • Notes
  • Section II: New Imaginaries Related to Authors’ Scholarly Work and Praxis
  • Chapter Nine: Ki te Whai ao, ki te ao Marama: Early Childhood Understandings in Pursuit of Social, Cultural, and Ecological Justice
  • Maori-Led Partnerships: A Model of Implementation Grounded in Te Tiriti o Waitangi
  • Reconceptualizing Early Childhood Education, Madison 2005
  • “Decolonizing/Anti-Colonial Early Childhood Research and Practice,” Rotorua, 2006
  • Pedagogy of Place
  • Tikanga a Iwi (Tribal Protocols)
  • Conference Proceedings
  • Indigenous Visibility at RECE 2006
  • Towards Reassuming Our Co-Evolutionary Relationship With the More-Than-Human World, Through Reciprocal, Responsive Countercolonial, Postcognivitist, Posthumanist Dialogue
  • References
  • Section III: Diverse Imaginaries
  • Chapter Ten: Situated and Entangled Childhoods: Imagining and Materializing Children’s Common World Relations
  • Legacies and Responses
  • Situated and Entangled Childhoods
  • Common Worlding Childhoods
  • Ethical, Political, and Pedagogical Implications
  • References
  • Note
  • Chapter Eleven: Posthumanist Imaginaries for Decolonizing Early Childhood Praxis
  • Discursive Analyses of Racisms
  • Drawing Inspiration From Posthumanist Perspectives
  • Stories of Anticolonial Pedagogy
  • Stories of Entanglements
  • Stories of Diffraction
  • Conclusion
  • References
  • Chapter Twelve: Radical Theories of Presence in Early Childhood Imaginaries
  • Here
  • There
  • Principle One: Systems Are Self-Organizing—Learn to Dance With Them
  • Here
  • There
  • Here
  • Principle Two: Cultivate Limbic Resonance—Relationships Matter
  • Here
  • There
  • Here
  • Principle Three: Love, Quite Plainly, Love
  • Here
  • There
  • Here/Now
  • References
  • Notes
  • Chapter Thirteen: Black and Chicana Feminisms: Journeys Toward Spirituality and Reconnection
  • Our Relationship With Black and Chicana Feminisms, Our Theoretical Homes
  • Michelle
  • Cinthya
  • Foregrounding Black and Chicana Feminisms While Enacting Bricoleur Approaches to Childhoods Research
  • Michelle
  • Cinthya
  • New Imaginaries for Childhoods Research: Collective/Spiritual Possibilities
  • Michelle
  • Cinthya
  • Michelle
  • Cinthya
  • Michelle
  • Concluding Thoughts
  • References
  • Chapter Fourteen: The Use of Poststructuralist Storytelling in Early Childhood Education Research
  • The Fabrication of Early Childhood Education Ethnographies
  • A Story About Karen and Julia and the Ideal Child as a Spanish Learner
  • The Suppression of the Researcher’s Self in Educational Ethnographies
  • Living Ethnographic Data for the Creation of Stories on Children’s Experiences
  • Postmodernist Ethnographic Data in Early Childhood Educational Research
  • Representing Findings via Storytelling
  • Reflexivity: The Threshold Toward Storytelling
  • Poststructuralist Storytelling as Revealing the Construction of Subjectivity
  • The Inception of the Stories
  • A Story About the Latino Immigrant Child Who Needs to Learn Appropriate Spanish
  • Poststructuralist Storytelling: Final Remarks
  • References
  • Chapter Fifteen: Revisiting Risk/Re-Thinking Resilience: Fighting to Live Versus Failing to Thrive
  • Resilience as a Reframing of “At-Risk”
  • Beyond Static Notions of Resilience: Three Twists on the Story
  • Listening to Mom and Watching Out for Himself
  • A “Good Boy”: The Risk of Early Loss
  • Reframing Risk as Resilience
  • Resilience Through Risk
  • Moving Forward
  • References
  • Note
  • Chapter Sixteen: Our Story of Early Childhood Collaboration: Imagining Love and Grace
  • Denise
  • Cynthia
  • Teaching and Meeting
  • Together and Apart
  • Teaching as a Position of Grace (Re)visited
  • Social Activism and Grace
  • Dwelling in Places of Love
  • References
  • Chapter Seventeen: Bring Back the Asylum: Reimagining Inclusion in the Presence of Others
  • Gulliver as Interstice
  • Playmobil and Parakeets
  • Breaking the Reflection
  • Asylum
  • References
  • Notes
  • Chapter Eighteen: Affective/Effective Reading and Writing Through Real Virtualities in a Digitized Society
  • The Magic of Language Project
  • The Line
  • Crayon Bodies: Affective Learning to Write
  • Walk the Line — Read the Line: Sensuous Learning to Read
  • The Confetti Room: Intensive Writing of the Heart
  • The Line and the iPad: Learning to Read and Write on That “Seeping Edge of the Virtual”
  • Discussion: Affective/Effective Learning to Read and Write Through Real Virtualities in Digitized Society
  • References
  • Chapter Nineteen: Learning from the Margins: Early Childhood Imaginaries, “Normal Science,” and the Case for a Radical Reconceptualisation of Research and Practice
  • Early Childhood Practices Are Political—And So Is Early Childhood Research
  • ECEC in a Changing European Policy Context
  • Crisis—What Crisis?
  • Researching Complexity
  • What Counts? Who Counts? The Case for a Democratic Turn in Research
  • Researching ECEC in Europe as Political Practice
  • References
  • Note
  • Section IV: Social Action and Activism(s)
  • Chapter Twenty: Critical Qualitative Research and Rethinking Academic Activism in Childhood Studies
  • Critical Qualitative Social Science Research
  • Constructing Critical Qualitative Research as Academic and Public Activism
  • 1. Explore Contemporary Conducts/Subjectivities From Diverse Location/Perspective(s)
  • Activism, Biopolitics, and Neoliberal Shifts in Forms of Governmentality: Considering a New Foucauldian Lens.
  • Entrepreneurialism: Self as Human Capital.
  • 2. Practice Humility in the Reimagining of Discourses: Becoming the Ethical Self
  • Ethical Substance.
  • Mode of Subjectification.
  • Ethical Work.
  • Telos.
  • 3. Construct Critical Academic Research as Ways of Being/Acting
  • Considering the Critical Research Outline
  • References
  • Chapter Twenty-One: None for You: Children’s Capabilities and Rights in Profoundly Unequal Times
  • Prisms of Poverty
  • Material Income-Based Poverty and Instrumentalism
  • Child Poverty: Capabilities and Rights
  • Heather’s Story: Disrupted Capabilities and Violated Rights
  • School Exclusion and Silenced Voices
  • Stories of Adolescent Exclusion: Obstructed Capabilities and Violated Rights
  • Feminized Poverty, Child Poverty, and Child Care
  • Jasmine’s Story: Obstructed Capabilities and Violated Rights in Two Generations
  • Whither Capabilities and Rights?
  • Agency and Resistance
  • References
  • Notes
  • Chapter Twenty-Two: The Costs of Putting Quality First: Neoliberalism, (Ine)quality, (Un)affordability, and (In)accessibility?
  • Common and Good Sense
  • The State of Early Care and Education in the United States
  • Neoliberalism and the Discourse of Quality
  • A Local Case: The State of Arizona
  • Arizona’s Response to the Early Care and Education System Problem
  • First Things First
  • Addressing the cost, quality, and access problem
  • The Costs of Putting Quality First
  • Concluding Thoughts: On Activism
  • References
  • Chapter Twenty Three: Social Activism: The Risky Business of Early Childhood Educators in Neoliberal Australian Classrooms
  • Neoliberalisms in the NQF
  • (Un)Realities in the Everyday
  • The Borderlines of Compliance and Resistance
  • Borders of Resistance
  • How Regimes of Truth Disrupted Our Resistance
  • Surveillance:
  • Normalization, Classification, Exclusion, Regulation:
  • Classification, Individualization, Totalization
  • Rhizoanalysis—Exploring Alternative Positions and Unstable Spaces
  • Decal text 1. Creating Ruptures for New Lines of Flight: Naming Regimes of Truth
  • Decal text 2. Creating Ruptures for New Lines of Flight: Identify Discourses That Universalize and Oppress Women Through White Patriarchal Strategies
  • Conclusion
  • References
  • Chapter Twenty-Four: [Im]possibilities of Reinvention of Palestinian Early Childhood Education
  • Development of ECE in Palestine
  • Players in the Palestinian Early Childhood Story
  • [Im]possibilities of NGOs in Early Childhood Education
  • The Path of Reinvention for ECE
  • The Dilemma of This Reinvention
  • References
  • Note
  • Chapter Twenty-Five: The Global Childhoods Project: Complexities of Learning and Living with a Biliterate and Trilingual Literacy Policy
  • The Global Childhoods Project
  • Living and Learning in Contemporary Hong Kong
  • Hong Kong Childhoods
  • Amy: The Only Child
  • Sara: A New Chinese Immigrant
  • Learning: The Challenges of Becoming Biliterate
  • Multiplicities of Childhood Experiences
  • Conclusion
  • References
  • Notes
  • About the Authors
  • Series Index


We’re delighted to be the 50th volume in the Rethinking Childhood series started by our friends and colleagues in Rethinking and Reconceptualizing Early Childhood Education (RECE), and original series editors: Janice Jipson and Joe Kincheloe. While Jan was unable to contribute to this current volume, her publications, and work on the initial Rethinking Childhood series remains so very critical. She is also a founding member of RECE, and co-hosted two of its conferences. We also want to acknowledge the continuing contribution of our volume co-editor, and the current series editor of Rethinking Childhood, Gaile S. Cannella, who supported the publication of Reconceptualizing Early Care and Education: Foundational Debates, New Imaginaries, and Social Activism in the Peter Lang Rethinking Childhood book series.

This volume reflects more than two decades of scholarship and dialogue focused on reconceptualizing research, practice, and policy related to early childhood. We acknowledge the role that the Reconceptualizing Early Childhood Education (RECE) conferences played over the past 21 years. We also would like to acknowledge the many people who have influenced our work in what is now a large global network. For all three of us, readings, critical scholarship, policy discussions, and work have informed this volume. As we’ve done our individual and collective work, dialogues and debates with a global network of scholars/teachers/policymakers and members of different global and local cultural communities have played a very influential role in helping us to continue to ask: Why and why not?

This global network, including those in and out of academic contexts, has provided an environment for challenges. It has also provided each of us a space for sharing our work, questions, and diverse imaginaries. We especially thank all of the contributing authors for raising critical issues and sharing their newest work and thinking.

In addition, we want to thank Christopher Myers, managing director of Peter Lang, who was responsive and helpful as well as our excellent copyeditor, Linda Henry. We also appreciated ← ix | x → working closely with book series editor and book co-editor Gaile S. Cannella and production editor Bernadette Shade. We benefited greatly from the assistance of Nathalia Biscarra in formatting and reference checking, and Dr. Ruth Peach, a colleague and friend, in helping us prepare the final manuscript for submission. Finally, we deeply appreciate the support and patience of those who assisted us throughout the book editing process. In particular, we want to acknowledge Peter Bloch, Daniel Swadener, and Bert Cannella who have been patient and supportive during our many projects; this one and others could never have happened without that sharing of interests, and respect for each other’s work.

While we have worked together before, we have never co-edited a book together. What fun! We also have become grandmothers within the past seven years. So to our grandchildren—Jordan, 5 years; Evan, 2 years; Liam, 8 years; Chloe, 4 years; Violet, 4 years; and Sophie, 1 year; and to other people’s children throughout the world—we hope our small efforts to work toward peace and social justice, and toward continued acknowledgment of your rights, knowledge, and experiences bear fruit, some day soon. ← x | 1 →



Exploring Reconceptualist
Histories and Possibilities

Marianne Bloch, Beth Blue Swadener, and Gaile S. Cannella

The primary purpose of this book, as a volume in the Peter Lang series Rethinking Childhoods, is to show new directions in ways of understanding and imagining childhoods, rethinking early education and child care, as well as thinking about ways in which scholars in diverse fields are engaging in action and activisms related to childhood, early education, and child care. Each chapter in this volume consists of a newly written or revised contribution by leading authors working across the fields of critical childhood studies, early childhood education/care, and/or reconceptualizing early childhood education/care. Authors were asked to write chapters because the editors (Bloch, Swadener, and Cannella in collaborative discussions) felt each could contribute distinctly new and innovative ways to dialogue, dream, and envision childhood studies, including how early education and child care theory, policy, pedagogy, and curriculum might be re-imagined. While many authors contributed, no volume could contain the many others whose work, knowledge, and voices might have been included.

We especially want to acknowledge the past and continuing scholarly influences of Sally Lubeck, Liane Mozère, Jeanette Rhedding-Jones, and Leslie Williams, who all passed away in the past decade. Liane Mozère, who wrote a chapter for this book, passed away while it was in press. All four have been friends and colleagues with each of us, and with many writing in this volume. Their germinal work has been important in so many ways to dialogues, publications, critical policy analysis, and mentorship of a new generation of scholars. In addition, Sally and Jeanette hosted the Reconceptualizing Early Childhood Education Conference; Sally at the University of Michigan–Ann Arbor (U.S.) in 1993, and Jeanette at the Oslo University College in Oslo (Norway) in 2004. Leslie served as the editor of the Teachers College Press Early Childhood Education Series, one of the first in the U.S. to support critical, reconceptualist scholarship. Liane brought her intellectual knowledge and spirit to our discussions of, especially, French philosophers whom she had worked ← 1 | 2 → with since the 1960s. We, and many others, miss their continuing wisdom, scholarship, laughter, and friendship. Our book is dedicated to their memory and their contributions to our collective dialogues and work.

The volume’s title, Reconceptualizing Early Childhood Care and Education: Critical Questions, Diverse Imaginaries, and Social Activism, is comprised of three major sections, beginning with “Foundational Debates and Critical Questions.” The second section is titled “Diverse Imaginaries,” for which authors were invited to bring in new issues, theoretical frames, critical questions, and to imagine new possibilities. The third and final section is titled “Social Action/Activism(s),” for which we selected authors who are engaged in “direct” ways to connect theory/research and critical social action and activism. Authors were given latitude to develop their chapters to reflect older debates and persistent issues, as well as newer ways to envision doing action/activism, or imaginaries of what could be, opening new spaces for thinking and action within childhood studies, as well as the reconceptualization of early education and child care. Our hope is that this volume brings together diverse contemporary perspectives on a global “movement,” to critique, rethink, and reimagine early childhood and childhood studies in ways that encourage deeper analysis, new ways to reason and to act. Many chapters, though not all, embed a way of looking for equitable, socially just ways to consider children in local as well as global spaces (concepts) and places (constructed geographical spaces. Contributors were invited especially because their ideas, we thought, would shed light on old and new questions, ideas, and action/activist opportunities; nonetheless, the authors write from the spaces they know—Canada, Australia, New Zealand, the United Kingdom, France, and Sweden, East Asia, Chile, and the U.S. Again, more diverse dialogues and discussions can come from these chapters, and in a next publication. This book was meant to highlight conversations and debates between more senior authors and newer authors within and across chapters. In addition, we intentionally mixed, especially, the second and third sections to highlight different ways of thinking, doing, and imagining.

Background and Rationale

From the late 1970s and into the mid-1980s, critically oriented psychologists, sociologists, and cultural anthropologists interested in early education and child care were asking questions about the narrow perspectives of the dominant empirical research in child development/ECE in research in the United States and in Great Britain, Australia, Northern, Western, and East-Central Europe, Latin America, Asia, and Africa. Others were involved in research that allowed us to recognize the value of qualitative/ethnographic research, and the diversity of childhood cultural contexts in which children lived and grew (e.g., Whiting & Whiting, 1975; Tobin, Wu, & Davidson, 1989; also see Mallory & New, 1994; Rogoff, 2003). Some were beginning to form a group examining the sociology of childhood (e.g., Jenks, 1982; James, Jenks, & Prout, 1998.) While many anthropological studies of childhood helped illuminate the narrow view “child development” promulgated as universal “truth” in Western contexts at the same time, writers critiqued the “representation of ‘others’” (e.g., Marcus & Fischer, 1986) that is part of the history of anthropology, sociology, and psychology. While the 1970s and 1980s provided a foundation for many critiques of the role of science in determining what is legitimated as “truth,” the role of power relations (political/economic/social) in development and education (for a few examples, see Apple, 1978/2012; David, 1980; Pinar, 1975; Popkewitz, ← 2 | 3 → 1987, 1991) and the politics of cultural/racial/gendered identities, inclusions and exclusions, also became critically important in discussions (e.g., Ellsworth, 1989; Sleeter & Grant, 1987) as well as in many political and educational research and actions.

In the U.S., especially, theory, research, policy, and curriculum were organized around positivist methods and, as Kessler and Swadener (1992; Swadener & Kessler, 1991) suggested, most research was descriptive, focusing on what “is” rather than what might or ought to be. In early research in the U.S. by Bloch (1987); Hatch (1995); Lubeck (1985); Polakow-Suransky (1982); Tobin, Wu, and Davidson (1989); Silin (1987); and Ayers (1989); as well as many others, represented in a special issue of Early Education and Development (Swadener & Kessler, 1991) or in the volume edited by Kessler and Swadener (1992), alternative methodologies, often qualitative and interpretive, as well as a variety of critical theories were used. These diverse contributions examined a variety of issues related to early education and child care policy (e.g., Bloch, 1987; Lubeck, 1985; Polakow-Suransky, 1982), pedagogy and curriculum (Silin, 1987; Ayers, 1989; Kessler & Swadener, 1992), and the ways in which dominant modes of inquiry and thought limited the types of questions that might be asked or the “evidence” found that propelled policy in early education and child care (Bloch 1992; Hatch, 1995; Swadener & Lubeck, 1995; Mallory & New, 1994). They illustrated the importance of new ways of doing research, the contributions of different theoretical frameworks, and the questions and practices in need of interrogation, or illumination.

In 1991, the first Reconceptualizing Early Childhood Education (RECE) Conference was held; the 20th was held in 2012 in the United States at Pennsylvania State University, and the 21st (just prior to this volume’s publication) was held at Kenyatta University in Nairobi, Kenya. The RECE Conference turning 20 was one of the instigators for this new volume, as we grappled with persistent questions and issues, including the following: What foundational arguments and debates influenced the development and continuation of the reconceptualist ‘movement’ and its annual conferences? What are new imaginaries in our collective teaching, pedagogies, political action, and research? In what ways were the initial ideas of “reform and change” realized, and in which ways are we still “waiting for the revolution”? (see Michael O’Loughlin’s chapter and title, this volume). Have we tried to engage in different actions/activisms over the years—with some success? In which ways has there been a renarrativized or deterritorialized notion of universal developmental psychology or child development as a foundational way to construct childhood, children, and curriculum, given that this was an initial important debate? In which ways and for which reasons might there have been little apparent shift in reasoning, action, or conduct? These questions motivated the development of this book, and the ways in which we selected representative authors, the foregrounding we gave for their thinking prior to writing, and the publication of the volume itself.

Foundational Writings and Issues

Along with those already discussed, this volume focuses on initial critiques and debates that provided a foundation for the diversity that emerged as part of the rethinking and reconceptualist writings from the late 1970s onward in Great Britain, Canada, Australia, and in the U.S., at least. While some critiques drew from critical theories originally coming from the German Frankfurt School, others drew from continental philosophers’ deconstructions ← 3 | 4 → of discursive language and practices. Others drew from feminist, postcolonial, decolonizing, liberatory pedagogical, political-economic, historical, sociological, philosophical, and/or anthropological/cultural studies lenses. We have tried to include representative writers from the early periods of critique, as well as newer contributors whom, we hope, add questions or forms of diversity/being that were unimagined in the work of two to three decades ago.

Among many early critical childhood researchers, we want to highlight the early and influential work of scholars like Miriam David (1980), Valerie Walkerdine (e.g., 1984/2005), Erica Burman (1994), and Bronwyn Davies (1982, 1989), all of whom have published influential volumes critiquing constructions of “child,” child care, and pedagogy through a variety of critical, poststructural, and feminist theoretical lenses. Valerie Polakow, whose work is published in this volume, in The Erosion of Childhood (Polakow-Suransky, 1982) provided early U.S.-based critiques of the dominance of child development as a foundation of truth about children, using phenomenological and existential theory and research to shed light on poverty, the existential lives of low income families, and “other” people’s children in what Polakow named “the Other America” (Polakow, 1993, p. 200). Gaile Cannella’s (1997) Deconstructing Early Childhood Education and Gunilla Dahlberg, Peter Moss, and Allen Pence’s (1999/2007) Beyond Quality: Early Education and Child Care in Post-Modernity were then and remain highly influential volumes that have illustrated how and why interrogating taken for granted concepts and practices is important. These, collectively, have been influential in the rethinking or reconceptualizing of early childhood education, child care “quality,” and the concepts of development and childhood itself.

A variety of conference venues, including conferences of the Council on Anthropology of Education, which focused on anthropological studies of children in and out of school, and the Bergamo Conference in the U.S. that focused on curriculum theory, were influential for many of us in the U.S., early on, and throughout the years. RECE from 1991 onward, and the Critical Perspectives in Early Childhood Education Special Interest Group at the American Education Research Association (which began in 1999) also offered spaces for new debates and challenges. These different meeting spaces and places allowed for an informal, multidisciplinary, and multitheoretical space/place for discussions and a space to try on “new ideas” and to grow in specific, dynamic, and unpredictable ways as we began to move both globally and locally. Through these different discussions and meetings, a variety of publication opportunities grew, which further allowed the discussions to grow: the Peter Lang series focused on Rethinking Childhood in which this book is published (edited at first by Joe Kincheloe and Jan Jipson, and now by Gaile Cannella), several books published in Teachers College Press’ Early Education; two Routledge series, Contesting Early Childhood and Changing Images of Early Childhood (the first co-edited by Gunilla Dahlberg and Peter Moss; the second by Nicolla Yelland); as well as the Palgrave Macmillan series Critical Cultural Studies of Childhood (co-edited initially by Bloch, Swadener, and Cannella). These new opportunities provided important windows for new discussions and the formation of a global network of scholars and scholarship.

In contrast, while there have been fewer refereed journals over these years with a focus on critical theoretical perspectives in early education and child care, or childhood studies, the online journal Contemporary Issues in Early Childhood or CIEC, the Journal of Early Childhood Research, as well as several newer journals (Global Childhoods, International Journal of Critical Childhood Policy Studies) gave space for the growing discussions and publication of open-access “peer-reviewed” theoretical arguments and research. As this is an important space for wider ← 4 | 5 → readership, and required for promotion at many higher education institutions, the continuing scarcity of refereed journal possibilities has been an ongoing issue.

This volume reintroduces some of the initial debates and questions raised during what we have termed the foundational period for critiques and questions (see Section I chapters by Bloch, Kessler, Hatch, Silin, and O’Loughlin, especially on these issues), and reflection on the aims, objectives, strategic successes/failures, as well as new issues and openings as we imagine the future. In the volume, we and many leading researchers and writers in the various fields mentioned, from multiple countries, examine several strands of research and key themes discussed in the areas of critical childhood studies, critical theories of curriculum and pedagogy related to childhood, pedagogy, theory, policy, and research. In addition, we include initial debates and critiques as well as authors’ new perspectives envisioned by authors within each contribution, but especially in the different sections focusing on “diverse imaginaries,” and “social action and activism.” Many of the contributions aim to open further dialogue, and to facilitate discussion and debate, to tell stories about research—tales from the field, and to talk “research stories” about what some refer to as the “reconceptualist” early childhood education movement. Others use different terms to recognize the general importance of critical childhood studies scholarship, policy analysis, new important theoretical frameworks and social and political action and activism in the fields of childhood studies, education, curriculum theory and research, social actions related to global and local childhoods, as well as social and environmental justice that includes attention to global and local economic inequalities, power relations, and complex ways of understanding and acting.

Whether critical perspectives, rethinking, or reconceptualizing, the aims of the contributing scholars have been to open up alternatives for theory, research, policy, and practice in the fields of early education and child care, to deconstruct the importance of child development, or a narrowed individualistic perspective on ways of examining children, and childhood itself, and to decolonize Western research and the “science of knowledge” on/about/with children and families (see, for one highly readable example, Rhedding-Jones, 2005). The chapters highlight the contributors’ own and others’ contributions, while also leaving space for additions, discussion, and continuing critical dialogue. Moving backward and forward allows movement that is unpredictable, nonlinear, and rhizomatic (Deleuze & Guattari, 1987). Drawing on various theoretical frameworks (critical, postmodern, feminism/gender studies, queer theory, posthumanist, decolonizing, postcolonialisms), the contributions to the volume continue the tradition of interrogating and asking questions of what is constructed as “normal”; the authors also continue their work toward the use of new critical qualitative methodologies and critical policy analyses.

Autobiography and Activism

For many of us, to engage in the varied work we’ve done over five, ten, 30, or more years, focused on critiquing constructions of the “normal,” has also been useful, transformative, and personally/professionally important—though at times also dangerous, risky, and certainly lonely. But the critiques that began in the 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s also require continuing reflection and critique: What were (and are) the aims, successes, barriers, and contributions of this work? But it is critical also to ask what, currently, are the macro-politics and micro-politics of our work, especially within the frameworks of global hypercapitalism, neoliberal economic ← 5 | 6 → policies, and a massive return to “gender wars” against women, children, early education/child care teaching and teachers, and families? We look at macro-politics as well as the minor politics of our writing, actions, politics, and daily work (Dahlberg & Moss, 2005; see also the chapter in this volume by Polakow and the chapter by Nagasawa, Peters, & Swadener). How do or could our strategic alliances and actions work in different ways toward various notions of inclusion, social justice, greater equity, redistributive economics and social politics for young children, their families, and teachers/caregivers (note these questions by Grieshaber & McArdle in their chapter)? In which directions might specific strategic actions move us further in fighting, resisting, or renarrativizing how truth is understood in relation to children, families, and “good education and care”?

We also collectively examine ethical perspectives that might be envisioned—including, at the least, an ethics and responsibility toward children’s care/education, not only in the richer, Western nations and the economically/socially richer communities within them, but globally and locally as we collaborate with and sometimes act for the other. As we continue to battle from a marginal space within the context of increasing notions of the standardized child, childhood, curriculum, teacher, and parent, what are our current visions for new actions/imaginaries? We reinforce the importance of the space of critical reflection and activism within an increasingly punitive political and economic global context that narrows possibilities, especially for poor children and their families around the world.

What are our continuing responsibilities? Where have we excluded while intending to include, whether topic, political movement, or pedagogical/curricular moment? Currently as we face continuing assaults from global capitalism, and renewed efforts to standardize bad practices in the name of quality “Education for All” (or No Child Left Behind, or Race to the Top, or assessments of young children, or continued lack of focus on childhood inequities, lack of rights, global perpetuations of bad pedagogies and practices, continuations of deficit discourses, to name a few), what might be our responses or ways of acting together over the next year, five years, or 20 years? What is the range of activities or endeavors that we might consider as we move toward an imagined “future”?

Have there been stories that have been possible to tell, that otherwise might have been omitted or excluded from collective knowledge? How have truth, knowledge, and power relations been affected—if at all? Have the individual and collective voices, ideas, and writings been heard; are we talking to ourselves, or are we talking and writing into ever-narrowing discursively confined spaces? Where are the openings, new lines of flight? Where is the serpent lurking, closing down barely envisioned spaces or possibilities (Dahlberg & Bloch, 2006)?

In this collection, we explore how different narratives have been allowed to continue and new narratives have emerged that constrain new possibilities for children/families/education and children’s care. Various contributors discuss how our collective actions and/or new alliances might be used in new ways toward new ways of thinking and action. Again, can we speak truth to power in alternative ways as a collective voice, or through individual and collective contingent social actions (see Steinberg & Cannella, 2012; Swadener, Lundy, Habashi, & Blanchet-Cohen, 2013)? The authors in this volume look backward and forward at the same time. As suggested earlier, the book is neither comprehensive nor fully inclusive, but rather a compilation of what the contributors each wanted to emphasize related to their past and present work and actions. The book presents ideas from a variety of actors that will broaden and continue these critical reflections and the dialogue provoked from the initial questions and ← 6 | 7 → critiques posted in the 1980s and early 1990s moving us toward cultural reasoning systems and policies of “the present.” While the content of the volume is nonlinear, moving backward and forward—with attention to key questions and debates within and across different groups that examine early education and child care—diverse theoretical, philosophical, and political/economic frames are used to do so. As editors, we hope to provoke new critiques, actions, conduct, and possibilities, while continuing to highlight the value of a diversity of perspectives for asking new questions, seeing things differently, and for new alliances or networks around different topics to emerge.

Through studies of “standards” to examinations of universal care that is far from universally accessible, from recognizing the continuing effect of neoliberal and cultural politics on and in the education of children to acknowledging the colonization of minds, methods, and voices, along with the possibilities constructed by new forms of critical analysis—we hope to continue political, economic, and educational challenges/practices that would move toward increased social/environmental justice and equity. By adding older voices with newer voices in contributions in and across sections, we hope for a variety of new insights even as each reader interacts with the text.

When we began to imagine this project, we posed the following questions:

  1.  Why is developmental theory and quantitative/positivist research still dominant and dominating notions of truth in early childhood research, policy, pedagogy, curriculum, and theory? If not developmental theory and research, which other ways of thinking and acting can we envision or imagine? Are there any responses to the Developmentally Inappropriate Practice/Developmentally Appropriate Practice (DIP/DAP) prescriptions?

  2.  Are there collective or individual ideas within the different contributions that involve notions of individual/collective actions or activisms at different local, regional, and global levels that represent new possibilities? Can we see or create new ways to deterritorialize, or create new openings that are outside what is taken as natural or normal?

  3.  In which ways has our work opened up new dialogues and ways to think about subjectivities, identities, a multiplicity of diversities? In which ways has the rethinking of childhood studies, child care, and early education using a variety of critical, feminist, poststructural, and decolonizing theories aimed at enhancing inclusion of different knowledge systems? Have we found new ways to be inclusive of many new ideas and practices, and pushed for more equitable and inclusionary policies and practices (e.g., see, for example, MacNaughton, 2003)? But have we also been exclusive, marginalizing, and, perhaps, in-the-margins at the same time?

  4.  Which new approaches to theory, research, and methodology have been generated, and which new challenges are raised by contributors? In which ways, if any, has the aim to decolonize methods/methodologies/Indigenous epistemologies helped, and/or been co-opted, by new discourses of colonization, new governing forces and knowledge systems?

  5.  In which ways do contributors add to ways to think about subjectivity, performance, desire, and pleasure within early education and care? How has psychoanalysis and the body helped in illuminating the child, the teacher, the curriculum, as bodies (docile, ← 7 | 8 → bodies without organs, performing or embodying diverse situated identities and subjectivities)?

  6.  Where are children in our discourses (is research on or about them, or with them)?

  7.  How do diverse theoretical and methodological frameworks add to our individual and collective intellectual work; in which ways have we also moved into a post-reconceptualist (Malewski, 2010) space, in which it is necessary to follow:

ethical commitments [to] the range of possibilities…. That there be spaces for traditionalists, empiricists, and developmentalist discourses regardless of the extent to which such ideas need to be challenged…(but is it) important that such work be displaced so as to break up sedimentary conjunctions, epistemological dominance, to open spaces where a thousand theories and stories are made and unmade, where alternative feasible readings proliferate. (Malewski, 2010, xiii)?

  8.  Within this, we have not lost our focus on young children, their care and education; critical policy and critical advocacy remain central to the challenges we still face. In which ways do our policies and practices still focus on pedagogies of inclusion/exclusion; in which ways do the politics of accessibility/disabilities/minority/majority voices/spaces/geographies frame our actions and practices?

  9.  In which ways has work represented over the years helped to resolve critical curriculum and policy studies related to (early) childhood, given globalizing capital and neoliberal narrowing of possibilities, a space where in the U.S, for example, developmentally appropriate practice(s) (DAPs, see Mallory & New, 1994) now almost seem “good” by comparison with other “standardized” and more didactic approaches to teaching?

10.  What are different and diverse imaginaries about children and childhood as pleasure and desire? How has popular media and global and local practices surrounding children “in danger” been addressed, analyzed, or constructed/deconstructed through our actions?

11.  While early childhood education and child care are gaining attention in global policy, in which ways might we imagine new ways to do research, to write, to envision curriculum, or critiques leading to new social actions and activisms?

In this volume, we represent a “post-reconceptualist” notion of a diversity of theories/methodologies—as well as diverse imaginaries for new pedagogical spaces, social justice action and activisms, peace, and hope. We want to be inclusive of the majority of children on the planet who do not live in the geographies and cultural spaces of the “rich.” In diverse ways, the authors challenge everyone to develop a sense of planetary kindness, an ethics of collective care for the “other” that avoids the construction of “others” (whether those who are younger or otherwise), and a posthumanist agenda that moves beyond privileging the self-identified human (or adult) toward an ethical practice that addresses the relational (including nonhuman and even nonliving) environment that surrounds us all, as well as environmental justice and possibilities for all aspects of our being.

This Reader


X, 333
ISBN (Softcover)
ISBN (Hardcover)
Publication date
2013 (August)
movement rethinking policy
New York, Bern, Berlin, Bruxelles, Frankfurt am Main, Oxford, Wien, 2014. 333 pp., num. ill.

Biographical notes

Marianne N. Bloch (Volume editor) Beth Blue Swadener (Volume editor) Gaile S. Cannella (Volume editor)

Marianne N. Bloch is Professor Emerita in the Department of Curriculum and Instruction and the Department of Gender and Women’s Studies at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Beth Blue Swadener is Professor and Associate Director of the School of Social Transformation at Arizona State University. Gaile S. Cannella is Research Professor at Arizona State University and the series editor for Rethinking Childhood and Critical Qualitative Research at Peter Lang. All are founding members of the International Reconceptualizing Early Childhood Education group.


Title: Reconceptualizing Early Childhood Care and Education
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348 pages