Young children's social organisation of peer interactions

Cobb-Moore, Charlotte (2008) Young children's social organisation of peer interactions. PhD thesis, Queensland University of Technology.


Young children’s peer interactions involve their use of interactional resources to organise, manage and participate in their social worlds. Investigation of children’s employment of interactional resources highlights how children participate in peer interaction and their social orders, providing insight into their active construction and management of their social worlds. Frequently, these interactions are described by adults as ‘play’. The term play is often used to describe children’s activities in early childhood education, and constructed in three main ways: as educative, as enjoyable, and as an activity of children. Play in educational settings is often constructed, and informed by, adult agendas such as learning and is often part of the educational routine. This study shows how children work with a different set of agendas to those routinely ascribed by adults, as they actively engage with local education orders, and use play for their own purposes as they construct their own social orders. By examining children’s peer interactions, and not describing these activities as play, the focus becomes the construction and organisation of their social worlds. In so doing, this study investigates some interactional resources that children draw upon to manage their social orders and organise their peer interactions.

This study was conducted within an Australian, non-government elementary school. The participants were children in a preparatory year classroom (children aged 4 – 6 years). Over a one month period, children’s naturally occurring peer interactions within ‘free play’ were video-recorded. Selected video-recorded episodes were transcribed and analysed, using the approaches of ethnomethodology, conversation analysis and membership categorization analysis. These methodologies focus on everyday, naturalistic data, examining how participants orient to and produce social action. The focus is on the members’ perspectives, that of the children themselves, as they interact. Ethnomethodology, conversation analysis and membership categorization analysis allow for in-depth examination of talk and action, and are used in this study to provide a detailed account of the children’s interactional strategies.

Analysis focused on features of children’s situated peer interaction, identifying three interactional resources upon which the children drew as they constructed, maintained, and transformed their social orders. The interactional resources included: justification; category work, in particular the category of mother; and the pretend formulation of place. The children used these interactional resources as a means of managing peer participation within interactions. First, the children used justification to provide reasons for their actions and to support their positions. Justifications built and reinforced individual children’s status, contributing to the social organisation of their peer group. Second, the children negotiated and oriented to categories within the pretend frame of ‘families’. The children’s talk and actions jointly-constructed the mother category as authoritative, enabling the child, within the category of mother, to effectively organise the interaction. Third, pretense was used by the children to negotiate and describe places, thus enabling them to effectively manage peer activity within these places. For a successful formulation of a place as something other than it actually was, the children had to work to produce shared understandings of the place. Examining instances of pretense demonstrated the highly collaborative nature of the children’s peer interactions.

The study contributes to sociological understandings of childhood. By analysing situated episodes of children’s peer interaction, this study contributes empirical work to the sociology of childhood and insight into the interactional work of children organising their social worlds. It does this by closely analysing social interactions, as they unfold, among children. This study also makes a methodological contribution, using ethnomethodology, conversation analysis, and membership categorization analysis in conjunction to analyse children’s peer interactions in an early childhood setting. In so doing, the study provides alternative ways for educators to understand children’s interactions. For example, adult educational agendas, such as the educative value of play, can be applied to examine children’s family play, highlighting the learning opportunities provided through pretend role play, or indicating children’s understanding of adult roles. Alternatively, the children’s interaction could be subjected to fine-grained analysis to explicate how children construct shared understandings of the category of mother and use it to organise their interaction. Rather than examining the interaction to discern what children are learning, the interaction is examined with a focus on how children are accomplishing everyday social practices. Close analysis of children’s everyday peer interaction enables the complex interactional work of managing, and participating in, social order within an early childhood setting to be explicated. This offers educators insight into children’s social worlds, described not as play, but as the construction and negotiation of social order.

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ID Code: 18357
Item Type: QUT Thesis (PhD)
Supervisor: Danby, Susan J.
Keywords: children, early years, peer interaction, social interaction, talk, gesture, social order, ethnomethodology, conversation analysis, membership categorization analysis, sociology of childhood, justification, place formulation, mother category, pretend, authority, play
Divisions: Current > QUT Faculties and Divisions > Faculty of Education
Institution: Queensland University of Technology
Deposited On: 26 Feb 2009 05:14
Last Modified: 22 Jun 2017 14:41

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