Jeni Harden, Sue
Scott, Kathryn Backett-Milburn and Stevi Jackson (2000)
'Can't Talk, Won't Talk?: Methodological Issues in
Sociological Research Online, vol. 5, no. 2, <http://www.socresonline.org.uk/5/2/harden.html>
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Received: 29/3/2000 Accepted: 30/8/2000 Published: 6/9/2000
The modern child has become the focus of innumerable projects that purport to safeguard it from physical, sexual and moral danger, to ensure its 'normal development', to actively promote certain capacities or attributes such as intelligence, educability and emotional stability (Rose, 1989: 22)
In everyday life we adults take for granted that children as a category know less than adults, have less experience, are less serious and are less important than adults in the ongoing work of everyday life. I suggest that for the word less we as sociologists try substituting the word different and consider the theoretical and methodological implications.
Engaging children in what might be called 'task-centred activities' which exploit children's particular talents and interests might provide a better way of allowing children to express their ideas and opinions than the use of more 'talk-centred' methods such as interviews or questionnaires (James et al. 1998: 190).
It is only more complicated to speak to children if one assumes in them a certain degree of taxonomic remoteness from ourselves. However, for complication in the subjects, read fear in the researchers… My complicated and complication-inducing nervousness exists in the face of what I feel to be alien and threatening, and is increased by the extent to which I cannot consider children to be on an equal footing with myself (Alderson and Goodey 1996).
To learn from children adults have to challenge the deep assumption that they already know what children are 'like' both because, as former children, adults have been there and because as adults they regard children as less complete versions of themselves. When adults seek to learn about and from children, the challenge is to take the closely familiar and to render it strange. (Thorne 1993: 12)
However much one may involve children in considering data, the presentation of it is likely to require analysis and interpretations, at least for some purposes, which do demand different knowledge than that generally available to children, in order to explicate children's social status and structural position (Mayall 1994: 11).
The narratives that are produced may be as truncated as forced- choice survey answers or as elaborate as oral life histories, but they are all constructed in situ, as a product of the talk between interview participants (Holstein and Gubrium 1997: 113).
2However we also noted that this 'boundary' differs in age terms between England and Scotland, with the transition occurring one year later in Scotland.
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