From sandstone to sandpit : a study of a community playgroup in a university

Lewis, Patricia Anne (2007) From sandstone to sandpit : a study of a community playgroup in a university. Professional Doctorate thesis, Queensland University of Technology.


This thesis examines the establishment and maintenance of an early childhood playgroup project in an Australian university setting. It examines the playing out of the intention of a university to create a collaborative partnership with an early childhood playgroup initiative within a higher education policy climate actively promoting such endeavours. The study documents the struggle to establish the playgroup project, elaborating the conditions that enabled and/or constrained its inclusion into a university setting. To do so, it investigates the contextual and relational issues that sustained or impeded the operationalisation of the playgroup project, identifying the stakeholders and the parts they played in supporting the initiative. The aim of the study is to generate new knowledge of a little-researched area, namely that of partnerships between universities and the community in the area of early childhood education.

The study is underpinned by the feminist theoretical work of Dorothy Smith (1987), and so takes the everyday world as problematic, using this standpoint as an analytic framework through which to observe and understand women's lives as they worked to establish the playgroup project in the university setting. Additionally the work of Marilyn Strathern (1997) concerning the audit culture of universities was used to enhance Smith's epistemological approach. The data collection methods for the study were in-depth interviews, participant observations and document analysis. In-depth, unstructured interviews were conducted with seventeen women involved with the playgroup project. The sample comprised ten playgroup parents, four women from the Centre for Human Services, and three lecturers from the Child and Family Studies section of the School for Human Services. Additionally participant observations were completed and recorded as field notes. The majority of these took place in the playgroup rooms. The collection and examination of documentation associated with the playgroup project focused on significant documents ranging from emails and parking permits, to government and university policy imperatives. These documents were analysed as texts mediating the playgroup initiative.

Findings detailed the conditions that enabled and/or constrained the inclusion of the playgroup project into a university setting. It was found the playgroup project was enabled by: government and university policies encouraging university and community partnership; a genuine intention on behalf of the university to promote partnerships with the community; thematics in the discourse of early childhood education promoting the profession's caring nature; and, committed people who worked to ensure the continuation of the playgroup project. It was found that the playgroup project was constrained by: government and university policies promoting research agendas; a partnership that was not collaborative in nature; disagreements about decision-making and leadership within the playgroups; the hierarchical nature of the university; and, differing notions of work and play that made the playgroups difficult to sustain.

The study identified factors that enabled and/or constrained a specific community and university partnership in relation to early childhood education. In doing so it begins to fill a gap in the literature in this area. Findings from this study may be used to inform early childhood professionals and academics by expanding their awareness of the issues involved in undertaking a partnership such as this one. The implications that flow from the study included the need for greater understanding of the anthropology of the university and its systemic organisation, a formal contract for the partnership specifying the obligations of each party and outlining expectations, and the inclusion of committed people, prepared to work toward genuine collaborative partnerships.

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ID Code: 16544
Item Type: QUT Thesis (Professional Doctorate)
Supervisor: McWilliam, Erica, Danby, Susan, & Walsh, Kerryann
Keywords: audit culture, childcare, community, early childhood, feminist, institutional ethnography, partnership, performativity, playgroup, university
Divisions: Current > Research Centres > Office of Education Research
Current > QUT Faculties and Divisions > Faculty of Education
Department: Faculty of Education
Institution: Queensland University of Technology
Copyright Owner: Copyright Patricia Anne Lewis
Deposited On: 03 Dec 2008 04:05
Last Modified: 28 Oct 2011 19:49

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