Producing and maintaining professional identities in early childhood

Gibson, Megan L. (2013) Producing and maintaining professional identities in early childhood. PhD thesis, Queensland University of Technology.


This study is an inquiry into early childhood teacher professional identities. In Australia, workforce reforms in early childhood include major shifts in qualification requirements that call for a university four-year degree-qualified teacher to be employed in child care. This marks a shift in the early years workforce, where previously there was no such requirement. At the same time as these reforms to quality measures are being implemented, and requiring a substantive up skilling of the workforce, there is a growing body of evidence through recent studies that suggests these same four-year degree-qualified early childhood teachers have an aversion to working in child care. Their preferred employment option is to work in the early years of more formal schooling, not in before-school contexts. This collision of agendas warrants investigation. This inquiry is designed to investigate the site at which advocacy for higher qualification requirements meets early childhood teachers who are reluctant to choose child care as a possible career pathway.

The key research question for this study is: How are early childhood teachers’ professional identities currently produced? The work of this thesis is to problematise the early childhood teacher in child care through a particular method of discourse analysis. There are two sets of data. The first was a key early childhood political document that read as a "moment of arising" (Foucault, 1984a, p. 83). It is a political document which was selected for its current influence on the early childhood field, and in particular, workforce reforms that call for four-year degree-qualified teachers to work in before-school contexts, including child care. The second data set was generated through four focus group discussions conducted with preservice early childhood teachers. The document and transcripts of the focus groups were both analysed as text, as conceptualised by Foucault (1981).

Foucault’s work spans a number of years and a range of philosophical matters. This thesis draws particularly on Foucault’s writings on discourse, power/knowledge, regimes of truth and resistance. In order to consider the production of early childhood teachers’ professional identities, the study is also informed by identity theorists, who have worked on gender, performativity and investment (Davies, 2004/2006; McNay, 1992; Osgood, 2012; Walkerdine, 1990; Weedon, 1997). The ways in which discourses intersect, compete and collide produce the subject (Foucault, 1981) and, in the case of this inquiry, there are a number of competing discourses at play, which produce the early childhood teacher.

These particular theories turn particular lenses on the question of professional identities in early childhood, and such a study calls for the application of particular methodologies. Discourse analysis was used as the methodological framework, and the analysis was informed by Foucauldian concepts of discourse. While Foucault did not prescribe a form of discourse analysis as a method, his writings nonetheless provide a valuable framework for illuminating discursive practices and, in turn, how people are affected, through the shifts and distribution of power (Foucault, 1980a).

The treatment used with both data sets involved redescription. For the policy document, a technique for reading document-as-text applied a genealogical approach (Foucault, 1984a). For the focus groups, the process of redescription (Rorty, 1989) involved reading talk-as-text. As a method, redescription involves describing "lots and lots of things in new ways until you have created a pattern of linguistic behaviour which will tempt the new generation to adopt it" (Rorty, 1989, p. 9). The development and application of categories (Davies, 2004/2006) built on a poststructuralist theoretical framework and the literature review informed the data analysis method of discourse analysis. Irony provided a rhetorical and playful tool (Haraway, 1991; Rorty, 1989), to look to how seemingly opposing discourses are held together. This opens a space to collapse binary thinking and consider seemingly contradictory terms in a way in which both terms are possible and both are true. Irony resists the choice of one or the other being right, and holds the opposites together in tension.

The thesis concludes with proposals for new, ironic categories, which work to bring together seemingly opposing terms, located at sites in the field of early childhood where discourses compete, collide and intersect to produce and maintain early childhood teacher professional identities. The process of mapping these discourses goes some way to investigating the complexities about identities and career choices of early childhood teachers. The category of "the cost of loving" captures the collision between care/love, inherent in child care, and new discourses of investment/economics. Investment/economics has not completely replaced care/love, and these apparent opposites were not read as a binary because both are necessary and both are true (Haraway, 1991). They are held together in tension to produce early childhood teacher professional identities.

The policy document under scrutiny was New Directions, released in 2007 by the then opposition ALP leader, Kevin Rudd. The claim was made strongly that the "economic prosperity" of Australia relies on investment in early childhood. The arguments to invest are compelling and the neuroscience/brain research/child development together with economic/investment discourses demand that early childhood is funding is increased. The intersection of these discourses produces professional identities of early childhood teachers as a necessary part of the country’s economy, and thus, worthy of high status. The child care sector and work in child care settings are necessary, with children and the early childhood teacher playing key roles in the economy of the nation. Through New Directions it becomes sayable (Foucault, 1972/1989) that the work the early childhood teacher performs is legitimated and valued. The children are produced as "economic units". A focus on what children are able to contribute to the future economy of the nation re-positions children and produces these "smart productive citizens", making future economic contribution. The early childhood teacher is produced through this image of a child and "the cost of loving" is emphasised.

A number of these categories were produced through the readings of the document-as text and the talk-as-text. Two ironic categories were read in the analysis of the transcripts of the focus group discussions, when treated as talk-as-text data: the early childhood teacher as a "heroic victim"; and the early childhood teacher as a "glorified babysitter".

This thesis raises new questions about professional identities in early childhood. These new questions might go some way to prompt re-thinking of some government policy, as well as some aspects of early childhood teacher education course design. The images of children and images of child care provide provocations to consider preservice teacher education course design. In particular, how child care, as one of the early childhood contexts, is located, conceptualised and spoken throughout the course. Consideration by course designers and teacher educators of what discourses are privileged in course content —what discourses are diminished or silenced—would go some way to reconceptualising child care within preservice teacher education and challenging dominant ways of speaking child care, and work in child care. This inquiry into early childhood teachers’ professional identities has gone some way to exploring the complexities around the early childhood teacher in child care. It is anticipated that the significance of this study will thus have immediate applicably and relevance for the Australian early childhood policy landscape. The early childhood field is in a state of rapid change, and this inquiry has examined some of the disconnects between policy and practice. Awareness of the discourses that are in play in the field will continue to allow space for conversations that challenge dominant assumptions about child care, work in child care and ways of being an early childhood teacher in child care.

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ID Code: 62396
Item Type: QUT Thesis (PhD)
Supervisor: McArdle, Felicity & Hatcher, Caroline A.
Keywords: category/maintenance, child care, discourse analysis, early childhood, early childhood teachers, identities, ironic categories, policy, preservice teacher education, professionalism
Divisions: Current > Research Centres > Office of Education Research
Current > QUT Faculties and Divisions > Faculty of Education
Institution: Queensland University of Technology
Deposited On: 10 Sep 2013 04:32
Last Modified: 02 Sep 2015 23:29

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