An exploration of the factors that affect the ethnic identities of a group of three and four year old children

Barron, Ian (2008). An exploration of the factors that affect the ethnic identities of a group of three and four year old children. EdD thesis The Open University.



This study seeks to explore the relationship between the individual and the social and cultural in the development of young children's ethnic identities in the context of a particular nursery school and its community in the North-West of England. A group of children, three-quarters of whom were of Pakistani-heritage and a quarter of whom were of British white-indigenous heritage, were studied, initially at home and then as they started nursery, using an ethnographic approach. The research points to a conception of ethnic identity as part of a multiple, shifting and fixing network of performances which involve borders of belonging and marginalisation and which include identities of gender, age, class, ethnicity, culture and religion. The research reveals the way in which white, indigenous, more affluent children, (particularly girls), were encouraged as legitimate participants but how less affluent, white children, (particularly boys), and children from the least affluent and most traditional families of Pakistani - heritage were marginalised as outsiders, usually because of barriers of language and previous experience. Ethnic identity is thus conceived of as emerging from practices and communities and is mediated and brokered by access to participation. In this sense, participation, in all its forms, may be understood as an ontological imperative because without it, ethnic identity, and other forms of identity, cannot emerge. None of this is straightforward: it is embedded in the multitude of power relations which shape the world. The research points to a need for more recognition that cultural practices in early childhood education are not necessarily shared and greater clarity is needed about the sociocultural resources that children from different backgrounds bring to the experience of early childhood education. This requires thoughtful and sensitive professional development and exploration of what early childhood provision should look like if fossilization and marginalisation are to be avoided.

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