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My Research

Research Plan:

Unpacking a can of worms: exploring young children's development of gender attributes and responses to stereotypes through the medium of stories

This research will be based upon critical educational theory with a post-structuralist feminist lens to determine how agency, individuality and freedom of choice within the reading process can support children's gendered identity development. My central argument is that ways of sharing stories and the content of many texts for young readers, combine to suppress children's creativity and individual response to story. The theories of Butler, Rowe, Iser, Sarland, D. W. Harding and Bruner on gender performance, positionality beyond dualism, language discourse and canonical symbolism will be drawn upon as a way to explore children's gendered responses and emotional awareness within storytelling. A predominantly qualitative approach will be adopted, using the combined methods of participatory action research and critical comparative case studies in three primary schools. Comparisons of picture story books progression and shifts will be drawn from both Northern European countries such as Sweden, Norway, Finland and Eastern China alongside those presented in the UK. Thus highlighting the gendered frames they embrace and the gaps and discontinuities that allow for critical reflection and imaginative response.

The 'unpacking' will examine:
  1. The gendered institutional values that are transmitted through storytelling practice, the role models that are promoted or discouraged, and the possible juxtaposition between the practitioners own personal lived stories and what children are told.
  2. The 'storytelling' parent-partner relationship in the Early Years, and the influence of the home learning environment on children's gendered responses through the ways stories are provided and shared by carers.
  3. Analysis of how stories are chosen and shared in schools, particularly the cultural and social inter-generational aspects that are being presented to children, of gendered messages and boundaries for identification, and of the influence on the emotional well-being of children.
  4. Consideration of the critical and reflective ways of sharing stories that support dialogical interaction and spectatorship for different gendered responses.
  5. Investigation into the issues that settings are keen to avoid, and the government policies and initiatives that are accessed by schools to support gender mainstreaming for children.
Research focus:

The main research focus explores the ways in which reading stories is a creative process.

This research area has been sub-divided into three strands for investigation:

  1. Gendered emotional awareness in young children, enveloped through the mediation of classic and contemporary fairy tales, and stories that relate to present day family issues.
  2. An understanding of gendered relationships, fostered by repetitive symbolic cultural tools and metaphors within storytelling, such as the Wicked Stepmother, Little Red Riding Hood or the Big Bad Wolf.
  3. The ways in which children's 'natural' perceptions of gendered identity can be challenged through the story process before they form personal oppressive or transformative subtexts for life.
Potential outcomes:
  1. To identify the elements of stories which can support children in post-gendered behavioural change; to develop greater cohesion within relationships by opening-up channels for communication on ideas, emotions and beliefs, and to develop respect and empathy for the values and feelings of others.
  2. To combat the ‘so what’ attitude prevalent in our society, and to encourage a connection on an individual and emotional level that will help inspire new meanings and understandings of identities from text and images for both boys and girls.
  3. To develop the theory of critical imagination (deconstruction of storylines; reflection of gendered values and ethical practice; imaginative reconstruction) and facilitate the adaption of narratives and the interruption of binary thinking towards gender.
  4. To advance the theory of neutral reader response through stories and interactive dialogical discussions for the cultivation of possibilities of non-traditional gendered roles, agency, self-determination and mobility.
  5. Propose ways of reading that provide a wider range of narrative positionings and emotional choices available for both boys and girls.

Jane Beaven

Jane Bradford


Liz Coates

Liz Coates

Dr Hilary Minns

Hilary Minns