My Current Research
Drawing on feminist new materialist and post-human theories and philosophies, my research explores abuse of power in the lives of young people through the lens of the idea of violence, attending in particular to the micro-practices of overt and subtle violence in the peer cultures and everyday relationality of the peer cultures of pre -school and primary school children (Academy of Finland 2000-01; 2007-10; 2012-16; 2016-21; 2019-23).
I use multimodal qualitative methods to investigate how power, conflict, and ethical relationality form in the peer cultures of children. These include speech-based and mobile methods, photographs, videos, drawings, paintings, sculptures and child-focused activities. My research aims to create new ways of researching and theorizing violence at nurseries and schools and to understand the forces that shape emerging subjectivities, towards new methods of empowering young people to safely articulate and transform existing representations of peer-culture gender-based violence. I believe such studies are vitally important, for the following reasons.
One, children and young people often feel that they are left alone with their peer relations, and receive little support in relation to them.
Two, young people experience processes of harassment as phenomena they have little control over and feel too awkward to disclose to teachers or parents.
Three, people do not learn human (and other) relations automatically, although we often expect this to be true. Relational skills can and should be taught to children just as maths or literacy are taught.
Four, statistics state that ten percent of school-children experience severe loneliness, that twenty percent are the regular target of overt violence, and that twenty-five percent of girls experience sexual harassment. These figures do not cover the spectrum of subtle, yet quite detrimental flows of force. One may only imagine what the figures would be if they counted the various subtle forms of violence, which researchers have found to be ubiquitous and concern nearly everyone to some extent. In an everyday classroom, harassed students are forced to spend most of their waking hours in an institution they cannot escape. Every lonely or bullied child is one lonely or bullied child too many.
Five, when tangled and prolonged, the challenges of peer relations tend to become more difficult to deal with and can lead to severe bullying and violence with long-reaching effects on health and well-being.
My current research interests and methods
My current interests include one, examining violence and ethical relationality in the peer and relationship cultures of children attending early and middle school; two, a study of those children most at risk of experiencing violence in their peer and relationship cultures; three, scrutinising the affective ties of youths in gendered histories and space and place; and four, considering new feminist, materialist, post-human methodologies of researching gendered force relations and subjectivities across young life.
I use multi-sensory, ethnographic ways of generating research data, from detailed observation, ethnographic conversations, drawings, writing, and artifice, to historical archives and descriptive statistics for local communities. I do so to generate multimodal insight into understanding gender, agency, relationality, place, and the socio-cultural-material resources children draw upon in building gendered force relations.
My analysis aims to extend textual and linguistic limits, attending to the material-discursive practices of body, object, gesture, movement, silence, speed, colour, sound, voice, space, history, feeling and touch. These configurations are often quite complex, particularly in how certain configurations become more or less powerful than others. Making them explicit is an important step to understanding gender-based violence in the peer cultures of children, across geographic and temporal contexts in schools and beyond.
Why am I doing this?
The Finnish Law of Primary Education asks Finnish schools to address gender-based violence, to ensure each student a safe, equitable learning environment. However, research contends that children continue to experience a range of gender-based violence among their peers. My research is the first of its kind in Finland to address this gap, aiming for a robust, innovative approach in theory and method. The study may have a diverse impact on education policy and practice, and on how knowledge is created in an academic community towards increased awareness of gender-based violence in the cultures of children—which, in turn, informs how we address adult, intimate-partner violence.
I believe this work will offer valuable date on key aspects of violence, non-violence, and equality in schools in Finland and abroad, and may challenge theories of violence and bullying, theories that are blind to the gendered, material, historical, and affective dimensions of peer relations. I hope that this will make a direct contribution to empowerment of children most at risk of violence.
I aim to ask, simply, ‘What else can a body do and become?’ and, ‘What else can data on child peer relations accomplish?’ New, expansive possibilities for supporting connections between children and their peers may transform these peer and relationship cultures, and lead to the development of new, innovative, sustainable pedagogies.
Note for teachers and parents
The ‘Academy of Finland’s guidelines for research ethics’ are the standard point of reference for every study I work in, and ethical approval is always obtained from the University of Oulu’s ethical committee. My approach is also always consultative and collaborative. Informed consent, written permission, is obtained from everyone participating in research and the research activities are designed with careful attention to the sensitive nature of the topic.
We create a safe research environment by which children can introduce views and experiences relevant to their everyday lives. Children can choose not to participate and may opt for informed dissent. People are made aware when they are filmed or photographed and a researcher will discuss issues of privacy and ethics with them. If a child would rather not appear in any visual data, that material will be removed from analysis and dissemination. School policies on child protection will be followed and if anything occurs that suggests a child might be at immediate risk of an abuse of power, a school’s child protection procedures will be followed and support put in place.