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Researching Children’s Experiences.
Melissa Freeman & Sandra Mathison . Guilford Press: New York, NY, 2008. 190 pages. CDN $30.00.
This book’s co-authors Freeman and Mathison are faculty affiliated with education departments in their respective universities (University of Georgia and University of British Columbia), who have broad experience in the use of qualitative inquiry with young people. This text represents a “how to” for researchers in any discipline who work with children. A social constructivist methodology is used, allowing for an understanding of the formation of knowledge both contextually and dialogically, wherein knowledge is a negotiated discursive construct that is created between individuals. The legitimacy of each individual’s knowledge claim is highlighted — no single point of view is more valid than another because all viewpoints are imbedded in a social context that gives them meaning. This framework is critical as it acknowledges the importance of both the lived experience and the social contexts within which children live their lives.
Most research about children has traditionally been carried out on them rather than with them. They have frequently been the objects of observation or experimentation. There is a long history of using children (and adults) as interview and questionnaire respondents but normally with the topic and design selected solely by the researchers (Christensen & James, 2000). However, there has been a recent burgeoning of research projects that attempt to engage children and give them choices in relation to the research topic, design, fieldwork, and data interpretation. This book covers the key issues to consider in contemplating research with children and provides a much needed pragmatic text for those wishing to engage in this work.
This book is divided into three sections. Section I (chapters 1 through 5) focuses on outlining the use of social constructivism — its theoretical and relational framework, negotiating access, recruiting participants, defining the role of the researcher, and possible ethical challenges. Section II (chapters 6 through 9) details the process of data collection and strategies for analysis, positioning children as active contributors to research. This section includes practical examples, such as the provision of a sample recruitment flyer in the chapter on negotiating access to study participants. The authors are to be commended for including not only the typical strategies for individual interviewing and focus group work, but devoting an entire chapter to visual forms of expression and representation, and to other forms of written data such as journaling. Section III (Chapter 10) discusses children as research collaborators and researchers and addresses important notions of power. Importantly, the authors do not make the assumption that involving children as collaborators in the research process necessarily is beneficial to them or enhances the validity of findings. The book concludes with a brief discussion of the elements of authentic collaboration and a shared research agenda – “repositioning the voices of young people and of sharing inquiry and understanding of each other’s worlds” (page 175).
Overall, this volume is well-written and very comprehensive. Each chapter is nicely laid out with appropriate subtitles, text boxes, and summary tables that summarize main messages or strategies. A key goal of the text is to raise questions and stimulate thinking about the everyday, taken-for-granted assumptions we make about children and their lives. This process is enhanced by the series of discussion questions that are posed at the end of each chapter to stimulate discussion around the issues identified.
This volume makes a critical contribution to the growing methodological literature on research with children (see, for example, Christensen & James, 2000; Christensen, 2004; John, 2003). It is an excellent resource for researchers wanting to tap into the critical issues – theoretical, methodological and practical – to address when conducting research with children.