The study method: learning to listen to children and young people
Against this background of sweeping economic reform and an unravelling social contract, we were interested in understanding children and adolescent reported experiences of their experiences of community, citizenship and environment. The heart of the first edition published in 2012 drew on detailed qualitative fieldwork conducted over four years (2006-2010) primarily in Christchurch, the largest city of the South Island of New Zealand.58 The study methods included focus group interviews, community mapping exercises and a field trip or class activity with children aged 8 to 12 years.59 In the 2012 study, 160 children were interviewed in 25 focus groups drawn from nine primary schools from Christchurch and surrounding areas. In selecting the case study schools, we were mindful of Seyla Benhabib’s argument that the researcher, positioned as observer, can struggle to sec the complexity and fluidity within the inner worlds of a culture.60 In New Zealand, Bishop and Glynn argue that groups from ‘outside’ have often dominated research, particularly for Indigenous communities.61 They express concern that the researcher cannot become aware of the meaning of schooling experiences if they ‘perpetuate an artificial distance’ or ‘objectify the subject’ by dealing with issues in a way that interests the researcher but is not a concern of those communities subjected to research. To this end, we worked with our home communities, connecting with the social fabric of the child’s world by returning to the primary schools we had recently attended as pupils, or knew well as parents or relatives of current pupils.
The nine schools selected for the 2012 study included three rural schools: an immersion Maori language school located in a North Island low-income coastal area with 100 per cent Maori enrolment (Kura School); a wealthy rural community on the outskirts of Christchurch city (Tree School); and a small high- income rural school in a South Island coastal community with 100 per cent Pakeha/European enrolment (Fann-Sea School). Two schools were selected from low- to middle-income urban communities, one of which included a high proportion of refugee and new migrant children from over 40 nationalities (Small World School) and the other a large bilingual Maori-English medium teaching programme (Community-ЛТмга School). The remaining four schools were located in locally comparable high-income neighbourhoods typical of the wider population distribution of Christchurch city: an integrated-state funded school with Catholic community support (Faith School); an ‘intermediate’ school for children aged 11 and 12 years including a gifted and talented programme (GATE School); a specialised extensive IT teaching programme (E-School); and a school with a gifted and talented programme and specialist music teaching (Music School). All schools were state funded. Two rural schools (the Tree School and Farm-Sea School) had active Enviroschools programmes, while the two middle-income schools hosted an edible garden (Com- munity-Амга School) and an international community garden (Small World School). The study was a qualitative research project; no attempt was made to gain a representative sample, rather we tried to get as broad a range of school communities and children’s views as possible in a city of 376,700 people. The aim was to listen to a range of views of the city’s youngest citizens to provoke reflection and a deeper insight.62
In 2018 we returned to Christchurch and interviewed 42 adolescents aged 12 to 17 years as part of a wider study of young people’s lives growing up in seven global cities.63 We also invited these participants to take photographs of their everyday lifestyles over a week. The focus groups were conducted through primary and high schools in diverse neighbourhoods across the city. Like the initial study, these schools were selected to include low- to middle-income urban communities as well as higher-income neighbourhoods typical of the wider population distribution of Christchurch city. The focus of the 2018 study was on how young people can be supported to live meaningful, low carbon lives, and the 2012 questions about agency and what people enjoyed about their cities were repeated in 2018.
We opted to use focus groups in 2012 and 2018 to help redress the power imbalance often experienced in adult discussions with children and youth.64 In a focus group, young people can be experts, supported by peers, and grounded discussion can enrich everyone’s understanding of shared issues.65 We included visual exercises in both studies (maps, drawing or photography) to identify places and activities that were important to young people.66 Within the 2012 focus groups, children collaborated to create ‘community star maps’, mapping their social capital in response to an opening question, ‘What do children from around here do with other people?’ In 2018 young people took photographs of everyday experiences, providing images of their food consumption, home life, mobility, leisure activities and education or employment.67 Young people’s images also included things they most liked about their community and things they most wanted to change. Together, the focus groups and the visual exercises created an opportunity for enriched collective deliberative reflection amongst young participants about their experiences in local communities (see Chapter 5).6S
The focus groups were conducted in English except for four groups in 2012 that were conducted in Те Reo (Maori) and English in response to the children’s conversation. The samples for both studies were balanced by gender identification. Teachers in 2012 and 2018 were asked to nominate children to reflect the ethnic diversity of the school’s census profile. ЛИ discussion was taped and transcribed, and all coding was cross-chcckcd on an ongoing basis. Analysis was conducted using a constant comparative method that continued during and after data collection.64 Researchers returned to each group to talk about the resulting themes emerging from the data, and results were presented to children and teachers to test our accuracy of interpreting what the children were reporting, and to re-examine our conclusions and draw on insider knowledge.70
During the course of both studies, significant events occurred that were important in the political lives of the children we interviewed. In the 2012 study many children had taken part in protests about the closure of a popular local outdoor swimming pool and at the conclusion of interviews, the children of Christchurch experienced two major earthquake sequences in 2010 and 2011 and over 50 aftershocks over magnitude five in the period 2010-2012.71 In the 2012 study another smaller protest also occurred that was initiated entirely by children in response to local community events at Tree School, where a spontaneous playground protest over several weeks occurred in the rural community against a ban by teachers on pupils climbing tall trees. All children we interviewed at that school had taken part. Teachers, the principal and the children reported students marching and waving placards outside the staff room over several days (see Figure 2.1).
In comparison, the 2018 focus groups were conducted in August and September, a few months ahead of a traumatic terror attack on two local mosques in Christchurch and just as Greta Thunberg had begun her school strikes. The first of a series of School Strikes 4 Climate protests began in Christchurch on 15 March 2019 (see Figure 2.2), the same day as the terror attack on two local mosques killed 51 people.
Neoliberalism and children s citizenship 47
Figure 2.1 Children in protests to retain a local outdoor pool, Christchurch, 2006-2008 Credit: Bronwyn Hayward