Reflexive reading through cultural lens

Following the first Connectors reading group held at Sussex we have recently organised our inaugural reading group meeting at Centre for Economic and Social Studies (CESS) in Hyderabad, our local partners for Connectors study.

We had a great turn out with the entire staff team of the Division for Child Studies (DCS) in attendance for the event. The idea of reading group was fairly new to most participants; so we spent the first part of the session addressing the purpose of the group. At CESS the aim of the reading group is to bring together researchers and practitioners working on children’s issues, to meet and discuss key readings in childhood and youth studies and thereby create a platform for intellectual dialogue and knowledge sharing. Moreover, the reading group gives us an opportunity to see how a text is received and interpreted cross-culturally and how the theoretical apparatus can be translated into research and/or professional practice.

David Oswell’s (2009) paper on ‘Yet to Come? Globality and the Sound of an Infant Politics’ was discussed in our maiden meeting. The composition of the reading group in Hyderabad was different to that of the Sussex group which was more academic in its make-up – the majority of the staff members of DCS are experienced practitioners and they come from different academic backgrounds such as social work, anthropology, geography, economics and public health. This made for really interesting discussions during which Oswell’s text served as a tool for reflexive practice. Below, I summarise some of the main points emerged during our discussion from the Reading Group Meeting:

Madhavi, an experienced social worker and now research consultant, liked the phrase of ‘inclusive exclusion’ and explained how this phrase very much reflects the reality in children’s everyday lives in Hyderabad with few examples from her research fieldwork. While seeking an appointment for research session, parents generally don’t consult with children about their availability and consider children’s participation for granted. Similarly, in educational settings, parents give too much of authority to teachers to abuse children for better educational outcomes. Madhavi also varies with the idea that children’s voices are heard all across the society, may be, at the superficial level in few sections of the society but not in entire society.

In a follow-up to what Madhavi spoke about corporal punishment in schools, Sriparna expressed her concern that although sexual abuse has been treated seriously in schools, people rarely consider physical or mental abuse as an issue and they have cultural approval from majority in the society. She further recollected her experience of working with rural communities where children are neglected in Gram Sabah (village committee) because they don’t have voting rights.

Srikanth highlighted the contradictions in urban middle class (emerging middle class) lifestyle where educated parents allow their children to have a say in food practices, clothing, social network and entertainment while they don’t listen to their children when it comes to education.

Sreekumar drew an analogy between nation states and families and observed that the priorities of adults in terms of resources, time, and space are taken seriously at the expense of children both at the family and country levels. On the flipside of it, the adult society becomes impatient and expects children to emulate them too quickly through ‘cultivated autonomy’. In agreement with Srikumar, Kaur suggested that we should allow the transition from sound to speech to take on its own pace instead of putting premature pressure on infant/children.

Sowjanya encouraged us to think about the ramifications of children raising voice against injustice. She recounted her son’s experience in the school where he reported about corporal punishment to the authority and how it affected his relationship with teachers. She is also of the view that there is no universal stand on children’s voices as different services in the country position children with different autonomy. This reminded me of Moss and Petrie’s (2002) work on ‘From Children’s Services to Children’s Spaces’ where the authors advocate public policy as spaces for children rather than services. Ramesh made a point about lack of knowledge among majority of the parents in the country on understanding children and their needs.

Vijaykumar asked us to think how the article can be used for research while appreciating the large sections of the discussion resonates with professional experience. He is fascinated to see how Aristotle’s idea of voice and speech is interpreted in the article. While children getting the platform to raise their voice is largely related to freedom, the effect of speech depends on audience and context. He wondered whether the author’s view that families are increasingly become democratic is applicable to India context.

At the end of our discussion we consulted about the choice of reading material and the time interval for future reading group meetings. There was lots of enthusiasm for a fortnightly meeting but considering other commitments we have decided to meet once in a month. As regards reading material, most of the members found David Oswell’s paper hard to understand yet agreed to continue with advanced literature in childhood and youth studies in subsequent reading groups instead of more basic reading.

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