An investigation of social roles and social relations of young children regarded as less socially competent
Son, Eun Ae
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The purpose of this study is to reconsider the prevailing beliefs or judgments about children’s social competence through the investigation of unique and diverse social roles, traits, and abilities exhibited by young children considered socially incompetent in schools. This study focuses on ways in which young children regarded as not socially competent form relationships and establish the roles they play in their social interactions. Grounded in the perspectives of cultural psychology, I pay special attention to the cultural beliefs and meanings in everyday practices and consider children as active participants who interact with social and cultural meanings and create their own. Based on Bakhtinian notions of dialogism, I also perceive children’s social actions, social competence, and social relationships as the product of the reciprocal interactions between them and others, social circumstances, peer culture, and the broader social culture. Using ethnographic methods, I collected data, such as video- and audio- recordings, field notes, jotted notes, and interview transcripts, through participant observations and interviews with the children’s teachers from December 9, 2011 to August 1, 2012. Drawing on illustrations from the daily social lives in school of four focal Pre-k children, I argue that these children have unique roles and capabilities for participating in peer play and interaction. Although the characteristics that they exhibit in their peer relationships cause them to be considered less socially competent than their peers by their teacher (e.g., shyness, bodily play, unassertiveness, and excessive sensitivity), these traits actually have important social roles and merit in the children’s collaborative interactions with others. I discuss how their unique social characteristics actually work effectively, peacefully, and harmoniously in peer play and function as an adhesion in their social relationships. Their “successful” and “enjoyable” social participation in their own ways supports Bakhtin’s notion of heteroglossia as a basis of thoughts to perceive the diversity of children’s social competence and ways of connecting with others. The findings suggest that we need to critically reflect on our cultural beliefs and values and common discourses regarding children’s social competence and pay more attention to children’s diverse ways of interacting with and relating to others.
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