The Narrative of Major Shifts in Child Well-being Research
The international and interdisciplinary field of research on child well-being has obtained increasing importance within contemporary debates in educational sciences both in the area of childhood studies and in empirical education research on students´ well-being and also in research on social work and welfare. One strong narrative in the international context and object of critical debate is that research on child well-being has significantly moved its´ focus and has undertaken so called “fundamental shifts”. This narrative of conceptual movements and fundamental shifts have been put into critical focus from different reflexive perspectives. The aim of the panel is to invite international experts who are currently undertaking qualitative studies in the field of child well-being research and to discuss their approaches in research in the context of this narrative and in the context of political, and social orders, that form together conditions of education and care.
Presentations of the Symposium
Children’s Agency and Vulnerability in Child Well-being Research
With respect to the new children and childhood studies (CCS), this contribution deals with the relationship between the concepts of agency and vulnerability in child well-being research. In the sense of CCS, children are social actors of their own living environment and so subjects and not objects of research. Thereby, the key position of agency was intended ‹‹as a contribution to the social emancipation of children›› (Esser et al. 2016, 3). In the contemporary works on and about the concept of agency, the anthropologization and ontologization of the children’s status as actor is criticised – and the paper joins this criticism: It is problematic to take children genuinely as autonomous and independent subjects, equipped per se with the ability to act. In this view, social conditions of childhood and of the possibility of ‹agency› would receive less attention (Wihstutz 2016, 62; Magyar-Haas 2017, 50). Accordingly, ‹‹the physical, material and emotional dependencies of children›› and thus ‹‹a relational and dynamic connection between social actors and specific contexts›› (Prout cit. in Wihstutz 2016, 62f) should be systematically taken into account. An exclusive orientation along subjective perspectives of children, who are considered as strong, cannot serve as sole criterion for research on child well-being. Therefore, the paper connects the strong term of actor with the concept of vulnerability and discusses the contribution of this approach to child well-being research.
"Children's perspective on well being between "voice" and "complicity" – the case of Kyrgyzstan
The qualitative study of children’s wellbeing intends to give “voice” to children. What makes their life hard or promising, what are the important interactions, wishes and hopes, fears and angers – all this should be grasped by child oriented methods of data collection. The data was collected in Kyrgyzstan, a poor country of the former Soviet Union, in which there is a strong age hierarchy, as the researcher found in several previous and parallel projects on young people of different age.
As a matter of fact children presented themselves in the data collection on wellbeing as “selves”, as persons with individual aims, goals and preferences. They talked about their wishes, aspirations, joys and – more reluctantly – about fears and pressure. However, they did so in the frame of social structures. The “selves” they presented in this way come up to the structural rules and confirm these rules – strongly validating structures by individual striving. In this way voices and complicity fall into one. Opening a space for “voices” paradoxically gives access to social rules – as “self” and social structure are like two sides of a coin. This is what a comparison with data from other contexts may confirm, as well.
From Object to Praxis: What Possibilities for Child Well-being Research?
The context for this paper is the emergence of competing analytical approaches in the child well-being field: the ‘object, ‘subject’ and ‘praxeological’ approaches. Praxeological approaches have challenged more established traditions in the field, questioning the positivism of ‘objective’ approaches and risks of reification in ‘subjective’ approaches. Yet, in their discussion of ‘social and political orders’, praxeological approaches often lack a sociological basis, reproducing the orders they are critiquing. Another dilemma is evident in the contradictory potentials of the concept of well-being, which has developed into a globalizing response to dominant frameworks for measuring social progress. However, the concept is ambivalent because it is often normatively under-theorized, and used as a shell to advance multiple and conflicting agendas.
Based on fieldwork undertaken for the project Children’s Understandings of Well-being: Global and Local Contexts, this paper explores these issues through discussing well-being as integration: as social integration (highlighting the importance of praxeological frames); and as system integration (highlighting the importance of comparative ‘objective’ approaches) with a specific focus on education. This approach attempts to take account of existing traditions to advance a concept of well-being that is neither relativist or culturally monopolizing.
The Children’s Delphi: A Participatory Methodological Framework for Developing Child Well-Being Indicators
Research into children’s well-being has proliferated over the past few decades with advancements at the level of theory and methodology. Driving this agenda was the epistemological shift engendered by the ‘new sociology of childhood’ that ignited a reconceptualization of childhood as a valid structural feature of society, with children subsequently regarded as key constructors and authentic generators of knowledge. Methodologically, this advanced child-centred research, which gave rise to participatory methodologies. Here we put forward the Children’s Delphi, a participatory methodological framework that is premised on the notion that children are the authentic knowers and authoritative experts of their lives and offers a structured framework for the meaningful inclusion of children’s views in research. The framework, however, goes beyond the mere provision of opportunities for children’s voices to be heard. Rather, the genesis of agency is located both at the level of conceptualisation, foregrounding their intellectual input as programme designers, and at the level of practice as programme implementers.