ECV2020 Keynote Speaker 6

Taking matter seriously: What can we learn from attuning to ‘stuff’ in early childhood contexts?

Jayne Osgood, Middlesex University, UK. (

Biography: Professor Jayne Osgood (Centre for Education Research & Scholarship, Middlesex University). Through her work she maintains a concern with issues of social justice and critically engages with policy, curricular frameworks and pedagogical approaches to extend understandings of the workforce, families, ‘the child’ and ‘childhood’ in early years contexts. She has published extensively within the postmodernist paradigm, most recently: Feminists Researching Gendered Childhoods. She sits on the editorial boards of Contemporary Issues in Early Childhood, British Education Research Journal; and edits Gender & Education Journal and Reconceptualising Education Research Methodology. She is also Book Series Editor for both Bloomsbury and Springer.


Background: This paper considers the potential that a feminist new materialist theoretical framework makes to undertaking research into global childhoods as they materialise through everyday encounters with learning materials in a nursery classroom in London, UK. Prevailing philosophies, pedagogies and worldviews, that both frame practice and circulate within the nursery classroom, are called into question.

Aim: The paper aims to provoke a different, and challenging, set of questions that hold the potential to shift approaches taken in early childhood settings in ways that stress an urgent need to find (other) ways to live life on a damaged planet (Tsing et al, 2020).

Method: The pursuit of tentacular, diffractive lines of enquiry open out understandings of childhood that view it as inextricably interwoven through endless worldly connections to non-innocent matters such as heteronormativity, capitalist manufacturing, industrial farming and meat eating. A reliance upon situated knowledges and partial perspectives (Haraway, 2016) activate this mode of enquiry and show it to be both unsettling and generative.

Results: By taking matter seriously (Bennett, 2010) a curious set of speculative questions is agitated about the (non-)innocence of childhood and how gender manifests in unanticipated ways in early childhood contexts and beyond.

Conclusions: The paper does not seek to reach a set of neat conclusions rather its purpose is to open up debate about the (political) significance of materiality in children’s lives and how engaging with it differently can alter pedagogical practices and worldviews.

Implications for children: Do you think that adults fully understand how much you enjoy the stuff around you at nursery, like the animal figurines?How can you help educators to slow down and think (with you) about how matter matters (to you)? What (other) stories can be told with the materials in nursery?  What do they teach you and educators? What else could they teach you?

Implications for families: Materials in early childhood settings are often chosen intentionally because they are considered to support your child’s learning. Can you work with educators to consider the wider implications of such materials such as the manufacturing practices involved, the environmental impact and how they might set other ways of thinking in motion that create space for children to be more creative and inquisitive? For example, we could ask what (else) do animal figurines make possible in early childhood?

Implications for practitioners: For children to have great experiences and outcomes from early childhood education it is important to understand how they are connected to wider political, economic and environmental issues – these are not separate from childhood. By taking matter seriously you can begin to think about the responsibilities that we all (children, families, educators) have to making our world a more liveable place, where we think deeply about our environment and the impact we have on it.

Key words: innovations, education, policy, government, international communities, (post)qualitative methods, (post humanist) theory.

This presentation relates to the following United Nations Sustainable Development Goals: