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Mapping & affecting flows of power in young peer & relationship cultures

Picture by Aiju Salminen

Gender-based violence, a prevalent and pervasive phenomenon, begins in schools with young people and very young children. To better understand gender power play – and to address violence in children’s peer cultures – I conduct post-doctoral research in women’s and gender studies at the University of Oulu, Finland. I work to understand violence and non-violence in educational environments and to examine gendered subjectivities in young lives.

Violence has detrimental effects on young people. It narrows peer relationality and restricts possibilities for doing and becoming. Such changes can be felt late into a person’s life. Finland, a small country, legislates that every Finnish educational organisation should promote gender equity, fight gender discrimination, and encourage children’s well-being. Yet studies contend that children continue to experience gender-based violence with peers as early as at three or four years of age.

To address this situation, we need sensitive, careful, methodologically sound work balancing theory and practice. I started my research after working for ten years as a class teacher, as a special education teacher, and as deputy head of a primary school. My teaching experience is vital to my research. I develop feminist post-structural, new-materialist, post-human approaches to understanding assembled force relations, affectivity, and subjectivity across the course of a young life.

I am currently exploring how the peer and relationship cultures of children at preschool and primary school form and are mediated through gender-based violence and friendships. Violence concerns not only direct verbal and physical behaviors, but mundane, subtle practices and processes normalised in social and cultural relations. It occurs in intentional and unintentional abuses of power, in a mix of anxiety, pain, and pleasure that can be aggressive, negotiative, persuasive, or even funny in expression.

Research and practical cooperation with educators means that we can now begin to map the obstacles and resources children and young people meet in their relations with peers, the potentialities that already exist in their lives, and the strongest barriers to fulfilling those potentialities. We can support young people in creating more expansive ways to ‘be and become’ in the world.

I hope this website will help to promote an exchange of ideas on these topics. Are you a parent, educator, or research fellow looking to collaborate or open a dialogue? Please contact me at the address below if you require any information relating to my work.

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