Researching Children and Youth: Methodological Issues, Strategies, and Innovations: Volume 22

Cover of Researching Children and Youth: Methodological Issues, Strategies, and Innovations
Subject:

Table of contents

(21 chapters)

Prelims

Pages i-xvi
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Abstract

This chapter presents the broad themes of this special issue by introducing the contributions and connections among the chapters in the volume. Recent theoretical constructions of childhood have positioned children as social actors resulting in a growth of child- and youth-centered empirical research. Yet, there is a continued importance for researchers to discuss ethical issues that arise in research with youth, contend with the competing constructions of children as social agents and in need of protection, and explore innovative methodological strategies used in research with youth.

Section I: Methodological Issues: Ethics, Locations, and Roles

Abstract

Gatekeepers play an important role in research conducted with children and youth. Although qualitative researchers frequently discuss institutional and individual gatekeepers, such as schools and parents, little attention has been paid to the role that Institutional Review Boards (IRBs) play in determining who is allowed to research particular populations and the ramifications of these decisions for findings involving children and youth. In order to examine this role, we compare negotiations of two researchers working on separate projects with similar populations with the IRB of a large Midwestern university. In both cases, it is likely that board members used their own personal experience and expertise in making assumptions about the race, social class, and gender of the researchers and their participants. The fact that these experiences are supported by findings across a wide range of IRBs highlights the extent to which qualitative research with children is changed (or even prevented) by those with little knowledge of typical qualitative methodologies and the cultural contexts in which research takes place. While those such as principals, teachers, and parents who are traditionally recognized as gatekeepers control access to specific locations, their denial of access only requires researchers to seek other research sites. IRBs, in contrast, control whether researchers are able to conduct research at any site. Although they wield considerably more control over research studies than typical gatekeepers, the fact that they are housed in the institutions at which academic researchers work also means that we can play a role in their improvement.

Abstract

An existing tension in sociological and criminological research with young people is the need to seek parental consent for research participation, while acknowledging that providing parents with descriptions of the research may put youth in precarious positions. This is particularly true when discussing sensitive topics such as interpersonal violence, gang involvement, and/or LGBTQ identity. One mechanism to maximize research participant protections while still preserving their privacy is to utilize independent youth advocates during the consent and research processes, sometimes by sampling with the assistance of youth-serving community agencies. Although such arrangements can be mutually beneficial for research participants, scholars, and the agencies themselves, concerns about strain on agency staff, ownership of data/results, how to engage in meaningful collaboration, conflicts of interest, funding, and other related issues also exist. This chapter draws from our recent investigation of the social worlds of urban LGBTQ youth to discuss the ethical and practical considerations of utilizing the assistance of youth advocates and community agencies. We also articulate how the case for utilizing youth advocates can be made to university Institutional Review Boards (IRBs) by directly citing the federal guidelines regarding research with minors.

Abstract

This chapter outlines methodological difficulties and ethical dilemmas encountered during my fieldwork at a high-poverty, high-minority U.S. inner-city school. Using a qualitative research design informed by the “new” sociology of childhood and constructivist grounded theory, I conducted child-centered research at the school for four months, including participant observations and interviews with 50 students. This chapter argues that good ethnographic research not only depends on solid research design but also requires researchers to be flexible, adaptable, and diplomatic. Especially regarding the “least adult” role, the dilemma of objectivity, lying in interviews, and the ethical predicament of students sharing sensitive information, I argue that ethnographic studies often require the researcher to act more like a diplomat maneuvering the stormy waters of contradictory interests than the objective observer described in the methodological literature. First-hand accounts of research exploring children’s own perspectives are scarce. Particularly difficulties and dilemmas encountered in the field are often mentioned only in passing, if they are mentioned at all. Novice researchers thus struggle to find information to guide their own endeavors and may set themselves up for frustration if they expect their research to be as predictable as the methodological literature suggests. The paucity of discussion of real-life difficulties encountered in the field also hinders scholarly dialog and obstructs the advancement of methodological and ethical questions surrounding research with children. This chapter hopes to help fill this gap.

Abstract

In this chapter, I focus on two methodological issues involved with conducting ethnographies of very young children; establishing a researcher role in preschool classrooms while simultaneously gaining access into children’s culture and the trust of adult gatekeepers involved (i.e., teachers). Drawing on my participant observation experiences in 10 preschool classrooms (over 470 hours and 19 months of observations), I challenge the use of the friend role (Fine & Sandstrom, 1988) and least-adult role (Mandell, 1988) in research with young children. I examine how teachers mediate the researcher’s role in participant observation of children in preschool classrooms demonstrating the importance of establishing a middle manager role between teachers and children when conducting participant observations. I also discuss strategies used to overcome adult’s mediation of the researcher’s role, and strategies for simultaneously gaining teachers and children’s rapport in participant observation research in ways that formulate positive relationships with adults and children. I demonstrate the importance of researcher reflexivity of children’s and adults’ assessments of researchers’ roles in the field, highlighting how researchers’ impacts on children are not dependent on the times they are present in the field. Instead, I show that children continue to critically assess researchers’ positionality and roles in the field, often times seeking the help of adults (i.e., parents and teachers), further stressing the need for researchers to negotiate an understanding of their roles with both adults and children prior to and while in the field.

Abstract

Qualitative researchers have reflected on their role and position while conducting fieldwork in youth settings; yet, researchers have missed an important aspect of social identity – their own membership and status in higher education. As researchers coming from university institutions, we cannot ignore that we hold knowledge about and familiarity with higher education. Such knowledge can be helpful to a young person’s future, especially in the current period of expanding higher education. What dilemmas and issues emerge when considering the possible role of college coach in fieldwork with adolescents? I draw upon insights by feminist and activist scholars, as well as sociological work on institutional agents and college coaches, to discuss my encounters with African American students in a study of college counseling in a public high school serving urban students. I analyze my temporary and situated role as a college information source in a school with low counseling resources. In doing so, I push researchers to consider university status as a salient identity and point of negotiation in interactions with adolescents in the field.

Section II: Methodological Strategies: Theory, Agency, and Voice

Abstract

The canonical narratives (Bruner, 2004) of contemporary research with children include participation, agency and voice. This inclusive language has saturated research literature throughout the development of the “new” social studies of childhood (James, Jenks, & Prout, 1998). Their presence was highlighted as illuminating greater understanding of the social realities of children’s lives but they mask and mute as much as they reveal. Heralded as the holy grail of emancipatory research with children, participatory methods have come to be recognized almost exclusively as the route for ethical practice and valid data. The absence of substantial, critical evaluation results in these concepts being little more than “cherished conceits” (Segal, 1999, p. 118). There has been a lack of thorough interrogation of what participation actually means and the data and social relations it produces. Participation implies collaboration and reciprocity but is counter-intuitively used to seek and promote the agentic child enshrined in neoliberalism. Children as social beings negotiate complex social relations (Richards, Clark, & Boggis, 2015) but this is often lost in research encounters which privilege the individual voice, informed by an under-interrogated definition of agency. Instead of following the neoliberal agenda we argue that recognizing the ways in which participatory methods, agency, and voice can and should promote reciprocal and relational social realities is vital to a better understanding of the worlds of children. We call not for their expulsion from research methods but for a re-evaluation of the assumptions that lie beneath and what is produced in their name.

Abstract

Exploring the “How?” and “Why?” of children’s agency through the employment of strategies to listen and to participate within parent interviews, this chapter addresses various “agency routes” children used in the effort to contribute their voices to adult conversations. The generational relationship between children and parents is tempered by children’s ownership claims to shared spaces within the home, which allowed them the room to defy parents’ directives to “Go Away!” Children utilized three different tactics of defiance (overt, quiet, and covert) in the attempt to listen and be heard, and in the process were motivated to participate in five distinct ways, which included: (1) informative, (2) corrective, (3) instructive, (4) investigative, and (5) expressive participation. Concluding with a call to recognize children’s voices as more than merely “background noise” when transcribing interviews, I encourage researchers in childhood studies to potentially revisit data collected in the effort to further theorize children’s agency as situated within generationality, contributing to a recontextualized framework of analysis.

Abstract

The purpose of this chapter is twofold: first, to demonstrate that the use of creative methods with children and young people is less important than creativity in the data analysis process; and second to introduce a framework for analysis which takes into account structure and agency and reveals the multi-layered context of the research encounter. The argument presented here has implications for those working within the “new” social study of childhood in the ongoing endeavor to understand children’s experiences and childhood in a social context. The model presented here is of potential value as a tool in data analysis and more widely in helping us to conceptualize childhood agency and the relationship between structure and agency. This chapter problematizes the call for creative methods with children and young people and instead focuses on creative data interpretation. An original model is presented which researchers can apply to the analysis and interpretation of data gathered in research with children and young people. The creative ways in which children and young people use the research encounter are a multi-layered response to context, which additionally demonstrates the creation of “other” spaces in and through their shared talk.

Abstract

The rapid growth of mass incarceration in the United States means that a historically unprecedented number of children are exposed to paternal incarceration. Despite a growing literature investigating the intergenerational consequences of incarceration, little research collects information from the children who experience paternal incarceration. In this chapter, we describe an ongoing data collection effort, the Jail & Family Life Study, a longitudinal in-depth interview study designed to understand the consequences of paternal incarceration for families and children. Part of this study involves conducting in-depth interviews with 8- to 17-year-old children of incarcerated fathers during and after the father’s incarceration. First, we document the challenges and strategies to gaining access to children of incarcerated fathers, paying particular attention to the role of children’s mothers and caregivers in facilitating this access. Second, we document the challenges and strategies to developing rapport with this group of vulnerable children. Third, we describe the opportunities that children can provide for researchers. Taken together, these findings suggest that it is both challenging and imperative to incorporate children into research on the collateral consequences of incarceration.

Abstract

Children and youth of color in White and adult-dominated societies confront racism and adultism that shapes their peer cultures. Yet, the “new” sociology of childhood lacks the theory and methodology to explore racialized peer cultures. Thus, this chapter aims to sharpen its research tools. Theoretically, this chapter draws from Technologies of the Self (Foucault, 1988) and Critical Race Theory (Delgado & Stefancic, 2012) to enhance Valentine’s (1997) “adult-youth binary” and Corsaro’s (2015) “interpretive reproduction.” Methodologically, it combines the “doing research with children” approach (Greig, Taylor, & MacKay, 2013) with Critical Race Methodology (Solórzano & Yosso, 2002) to do research with youth of color. These enhanced research tools are then used to explore how boys and girls of color (n = 150), 9- to 17-year olds, experience peer culture in suburban schools, under police surveillance, and on social media. In the field, interviewers navigated their adult privilege and racial/ethnic positionalities in relation to that of participants and the racial dynamic in the research setting, ultimately aiming to co-create a safe space for counter-storytelling. As a result, this chapter captured how White-dominated peer cultures used racial microaggressions against youth of color in suburban schools, boy peer cultures navigated racialized policing, and online-offline peer cultures curtailed protective and controlling racialized adult surveillance. Theoretically, the racially enhanced interpretive reproduction and adult-youth binary exposed the adultism-racism intersection that shapes youth peer cultures. Methodologically, counter-storytelling revealed the painful realities that youth of color face and that those with adult and/or White privilege would rather ignore.

Section III: Methodological Innovations: Visuals, Media, and Technology

Abstract

Children are not clay tablets upon which adults can etch predetermined futures. Rather, children are active agents who repeatedly interact with various social fields. Religion, one of those fields, is a major social institution that influences one’s religious beliefs as well as one’s secular behavior. Studying children’s views on religion and how they relate to their religious communities makes explicit the ways children actively participate in their own religious socialization. Consequently, this study is an examination of children’s participation in their religious communities at two evangelical Protestant churches in Northern California utilizing focus group interviews of children as a way to get at children’s collaborative constructions of meanings. Consistent with current understandings in the sociology of childhood, findings indicate that children separate themselves from those of adults within their own “kid congregations” that are distinctly separate from the adults. Moreover, this research addresses a gap in the sociological literature regarding how children talk about their relationships to their church communities; it has implications for how one interprets and approaches current and future studies investigating how children relate to their religious communities.

Abstract

There are three main analytic challenges to studying kids, especially where the core focus is inequality: (1) minimizing the power imbalance between adults/researchers and kids/participants, (2) attending to the active and imaginative communication styles of young people, and (3) getting beneath the superficial rhetoric of meritocracy, colorblindness, and post-feminism. In this chapter, we draw from our own qualitative insights when studying middle school kids (grades 6–8, ages 11–14) in providing a systematic analysis of the effectiveness of distinct visual strategies and their respective strengths and limitations for producing rich, useful, and specific data. The insights gleaned are applicable to analyses of kids, understandings of inequality, and even methodological training.

Abstract

How can researchers develop methods that are both child-centered and grounded in the “epistemology of racial emancipation” given the unique challenges associated with conducting research with young people and white people? The purpose of this chapter is to examine the use of an innovative child-centered visual research method within the context of a larger ethnography focused on how white children come to form ideas about race in America. As part of a broader ethnographic study, white children between the ages of 10 and 13 were presented with photographs of celebrities. Children were asked questions about how to racially classify these popular culture icons, an activity that led to further discussion about race and racism in America. Drawing upon photographs of popular cultural icons and celebrities is one strategy for approaching uncomfortable topics with children in way that is less intimidating and that also brings new data to the study. Children made this aspect of the interview their own, bringing their unique perspectives to bear. This chapter discusses at length unique methodological issues, strategies, and innovations involved in research with white children about race. This chapter makes original contributions to the field of developing innovative, child-centered methods for conducting research with children and youth as well as existing scholarship on whiteness, privilege, and the social reproduction of racial ideology/racism.

Abstract

Conducting research with children and youth has become increasingly challenging in recent years. At times these difficulties come in the form of restrictions by Institutional Review Boards, funding agencies, and parents. Additionally, changes in youth culture and behavior, specifically regarding online activities and digitally mediated communications, impact the access that researchers have to children and youth communities in significant ways. In this chapter, I propose that the use of an emerging methodological technique, digital ethnography, may provide researchers with new data sources on children and youth culture. Digital ethnography combines ethnographic techniques of observation, participation, and interview with content analysis to collect rich data about online behavior, norms, expectations, and interactions. This technique not only provides researchers with sources of data that allow insight into youth culture by acknowledging the increasing importance of online and digital interactions in youth culture but may also address some of the concerns raised by IRBs and other interested parties about conducting research with children and teens. This chapter provides practical and ethical considerations of this method, as well as a discussion of limitations of data collection and access as it highlights new ways of studying youth culture, using emerging data collection techniques in innovative research projects.

Abstract

Inspired by the debates on participatory methods and drawing from research on “digital childhoods” in Portugal, this chapter aims to address the methodological innovations and challenges in collecting visual and digital data with children at their homes. As one of the stages of a research project on internet use, children were asked to take photos of their favorite objects at home and to collect screenshots of their most used webpages, followed by a conversation with the researcher. The use of photography allowed children greater expression and autonomy and gave researchers access to the children’s own perspectives on their home environment. It also provided unique information about the arrangement of digital objects at home and their different appropriations by girls and boys. Screenshots showed creative uses of the internet by children and gender differences. Ethical concerns were raised, due to the specific nature of working with children and with visual material (anonymization and dissemination). Entering the domestic setting provided a privileged access to children’s private sphere and to the in situ observation of their use of technology. However, the home is not a neutral place for a researcher and crossing the border into the private domain involves risks. These findings, illustrated by empirical examples from the research field, stress the importance of reflecting on and discussing the potentials, limitations, and ethical considerations of different methodologies, as well as their suitability to specific research objects, subjects, and contexts.

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About the Authors

Pages 383-388
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Index

Pages 389-404
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Cover of Researching Children and Youth: Methodological Issues, Strategies, and Innovations
DOI
10.1108/S1537-4661201722
Publication date
2017-03-08
Book series
Sociological Studies of Children and Youth
Editors
Series copyright holder
Emerald Publishing Limited
ISBN
978-1-78714-099-8
eISBN
978-1-78714-098-1
Book series ISSN
1537-4661