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Cups, Plates, CVs and other Material-Semiotic Orderings in Child and Youth Development: A Dialogue between Psychology

and Anthropology
Michalis Kontopodis (PhD) Department of European Ethnology, Humboldt Universität zu Berlin

Summary The study of childhood and child development has a very old tradition that goes back not only to psychology, but also to anthropology. Anthropology has nowadays become post-colonial, posthumanist, feminist, post-feminist and non-representative and ethnographic methodology is more and more applied in both disciplines. In this context a particular attention is increasingly paid on material and corporeal issues of everyday life and child development as well as on the equal participation of children/ youngsters in the research. By examining a series of ethnographic materials from kindergarten and school research projects this keynote presents a relational approach to materiality and corporeality and focuses on two interrelated notions those of ‘mediation’ and of ‘practice’ in an attempt to understand the role materiality and corporeality play in child development and everyday life. The early study of childhood & culture I guess that developmental psychologists here in this congress in Lausanne remember the year 1925, because in that year Jean Piaget took the chair of philosophy at the University of Neuchâtel. It is also possible that the most critical of them remember that within quite a different geo-political context that same year, Lev Vygotskij became one of the three members of the Methods Committee for Psychology of the Scientific Council for the People’s Commission on Education (Vygodskaja & Lifanova, 2000, p.108). A further event which took place in 1925 was the 14th Conference of the Communist Party of Soviet Union. Because of the conflict between Leninism and Trotskyism (which officially began there and led some years later to the defeat of the second), Vygotskij faced difficulties in printing and circulating his famous Educational Psychology and Psychology of Art1 that year.
These two books express not only Marxist but also Nietzschean and Trotskyist influences and were in many regards provocative both for psychology in the context of the Soviet Union but also for psychology in general. Educational Psychology was written in 1924 and printed in 1926 with a different publisher as originally agreed and Psychology of Art was written in 1925 and not printed at all in that time, although it was initially accepted for print (for further details see: Keiler___)

Engeström. which was completed in 1938 and was first discovered in 1981 in the National Library of Paris. 2006. there have however been important theoretical movements in its margins which increasingly also used ethnographic methodology. Concepts such as appropriation. and meaning are central to this kind of theory and research (Chaiklin. Cole. followed by Malinowski (1928) and others. agency. and Benjamin. & Vasquez. activity. a series of childhood studies have been completed since the second half of the 20th century. Bateson. & Macgregor. decentralized. Cole. where Benjamin hid it from Nazis in 1940. 1951)—a methodology which later led to the popular nowadays ‘visual anthropology’ (LeVine. A decade later in 1936. this time in Bali and New Guinea. 1928). Bateson. Recent trends in the study of childhood & culture Based on the pioneer work of Vygotskij. is an analysis of his own childhood under the threat of fascism in Berlin and might be seen as one of the first anthropological studies of childhood that took place in Europe. 2 . a great deal of cultural-historical or postVygotskian theory and research deals with issues related to learning. post-humanist. one can observe in general that anthropology had often experienced radical ruptures in itself and has become post-colonial. To refer to more recent works. the cultural scholar Walter Benjamin was writing the very influential book Berliner Kindheit um 1900 (Benjamin & Adorno. feminist and even post-feminist while ethnography has become nonrepresentative. 1992). tried to enrich ethnographic fieldwork about children through visual recordings. 2008). At that time but in yet another geo-political context. culture. and child development. While it is not possible to summarize in two sentences the 20th century history of this research. This manuscript. they usually ignore another major event in childhood research that should be taken into consideration while dealing with the history of the study of childhood and culture: in November 1925 the famous anthropologist Margaret Mead set sail from the US for Samoa in order to undertake what is commonly seen as the first anthropological fieldwork with children outside Europe and North America (Mead. the most advanced technology of the time (Bateson & Mead. multi-sited and collaborative. using a 35 mm still camera and a 16 mm black and white motion picture camera. Psychology has often been more conservative and less innovative. 1942.Even if developmental psychologists and educational scientists are aware of these events. Mead. Mead. education. Margaret Mead and Gregory Bateson. 2001.

one may refer to journals such as Children & Society and Ethos (Blackwell) and Childhood (Sage) or to the book series in Childhood Studies of the Rutgers University Press (see http://children. Wagner-Willi. Engeström. institutions. 1991. molecules. 2008. One can observe that while classic ethnographic and interpretative research methodology has become more and more popular in cultural-historical psychology. One could also refer here to the renowned anthropological research center led by Christoph Wulf at the Free University of Berlin and its numerous publications (Tervooren. 2004. 2001. multi-sited ethnography and collaborative action research.. I would dare to identify some general trends in both approaches here.. organs. Recent debates in anthropology concern not only human interaction but also materiality and corporeality as techno-scientific products (Henare. Culture and Activity (Routledge/Taylor & Francis) or in the series of the Cambridge University Press Learning in Doing: Social. technical and medical devices as well as to their interrelations. Stetsenko & Arievitch. Cognitive and Computational Perspectives (see: http://www. Wulf & Zirfas. virtual ethnography. 2003. 2007. Holbraad. one may also refer to works published in Mind. anthropological research itself has entered a post-representation period as well as moved to more innovative methodologies such as visual anthropological fieldwork. Daniels.htm) 2 3 . 2005. Wulf. 2003. Valsiner. 2008.camden. 2007)2. animals. 2008. 2006. & Wastell.rutgers. Concerning the different historical and local contexts of cultural-historical and anthropological research. Dafermos. 1987). 2007) and examine ‘social’ phenomena of different scales – here the notion of society refers to societies of chemical so as to reflect on both and suggest a working framework for childhood studies. viruses. disability. illness. Anthropology of childhood has recently gained much attention inside US anthropology with a special issue of American Anthropologist (June 2007) and two „In Focus“ commentary series of Anthropology News titled „Transforming the Anthropology of Childhood“ and „Confronting Challenges in Research with Children“ (April. Cole. Lave & Wenger. health. 2001. Regarding the cultural-historical school.asp?code=LID). it is self-evident that there is no such a thing as a homogenous body of knowledge that could be called ‘anthropology of childhood’—nor is there homogeneity in cultural-historical psychology. Rogoff.1997. Davydov. ageing and everyday use of technologies. Kozulin et al. 2002. However. 2007). 2010.cambridge. in press. Oers et al. Daniels. people. Important scholarship in anthropology has also criticized dominant masculine rationalities in science and technology and examined the variety of cultural understandings and practices regarding medicine. see: Bluebond-Langner & Korbin. 1987. & Wertsch. 2008. cells. 2006. Regarding the anthropological research. Oppenheim. things.

2007. In both these projects I used ethnographic methodology with a particular focus on the production. constructed through material as well as discursive practices. Mol. The examples refer to scenes or phenomena which were being observed frequently and repeated themselves in my data records. I participated in the research field on long-term basis as an adult who was something between children/ youngsters and teachers and enjoyed trust from both parts. childhood and society which has been followed by a few more publications on international level (Kelle.and in some circumstances their unraveling and disintegration (Prout. According to Prout: Bodies and children must be seen as hybrid entities. Examining childhood bodies in this view becomes a matter of tracing through the means. 1999. 1993). Kontopodis. use and circulation of materialities – according to recently developed approaches in the anthropology of technoscience (Latour. The first book which moved in this direction in childhood studies was the Allan Prout’s edited volume from 1999: The body.. Sørensen.. p. Suchman. 1980/1987). the varied array of materials and practices involved in their construction and maintenance .Not always has this pioneer anthropological work been reflected on the anthropology of childhood. 1999. The research was unfolded in different stages and my research questions were specified parallel to the ongoing analysis of the collected ethnographic materials. and generate or support heterogeneity and movement in the researched field (Deleuze & Guattari. My interest was in both research projects not only theoretical or epistemological – but at some extent also political. in the sense that I wanted my research to contribute to freedom. 2005. In following I will nevertheless try to 4 . 15) Research Materials and Examples Having this theoretical background in mind I would like now to turn to examples taken from two different research projects in which I was involved: a) a school ethnography that investigated the enactment or performance of students’ pasts and futures in the everyday life at a secondary school in Germany and b) an interdisciplinary research about obesity politics and eating matters in Berlin kindergartens. 2009). It is not my aim to present here analytically the methodology and results of these two research projects – I am only going to draw here on two examples in order to develop my theoretical argumentation. 2009. 2007). Following Holzkamp I see these examples not as accidental but as instrumental in theory building and integral part of the theory itself (Holzkamp.

combined. Materialities at School We are at a secondary school in Germany. all data could be completely changed. Each student is maintaining two files: a paper one and a computer one. Why is it important to have everything dated? And what is the role of the files in developmental processes? Picture 1: Student’s PC file Here time is spatialized. The documents written in the previous semesters were arranged in the same way. everything is always ‘in progress’. The student is supposed to maintain his/her file by updating it 5 . The paper files were stored on shelves in the classroom of the student’s Communication Group. Documents are dated and arranged in chronological order so that a temporal order is created.present the examples in a transparent way and provide the reader with space for alternative interpretations. The computer file was stored in the computer network of the school and was accessible from different school rooms. where dated documents written by the student during one school semester are in sequential order. Picture 1 depicts a fragment of such a file. There is a slight difference between the computer personal file and the other files: with the computer file. and transformed. It contained all the texts written by the student and all the information he or she had collected since the beginning of the 9th grade. re-combined.

and teleological. Here is a draft of a CV a student made after Esther’s presentation: English (translation by M. they applied for various vocational trainings or low-paid [2] preferable career: Place. continuous. By the end of the school year. 2007). Date: -????????????????? [3] #city#. according to which the student’s professional choice is decided (Kontopodis. but also independent . the student typed a line of question marks in boldface. good comprehension[1] Hobbies: . long descriptions on past events become increasingly dense and different voices are excluded so that a restricted number of statements come into view in the end. and application letters. The further the schooling proceeds. planning . 6 . the present and the future is mediated and enacted so that time is quantified. thus materializing the being-in-process or the becoming-a-selfresponsible adult as discussed above. The students make use of their files to write CVs and application letters. This process is materialized in the temporality of the student’s file(s) and its results are also materialized in the resulting school certifications. What is of particular interest here is that under the entry “preferable career” (part 3).flexible. so that it is always clearly visible if a document of a particular date is missing and should be supplied.swimming and fitness . they portrayed and advertised themselves by narrating their past.regularly. the more convergent the discourse formation. The student is now supposed to further reflect on himself in order to discover his desired profession and make decisions about the future. #date# [4] This draft was made by a student under the teacher’s guidance and saved in his computer file where it could undergo modifications and be finalized in the coming well in a team. Experience is being filtered and possibilities are reduced. There is always a next step to follow. organization. Exactly this process is materialized in the CV. Dated documents are kept together.Understanding of work processes. CVs.) Personal Strengths: .K. Discourse formation has not been accomplished yet. the students are supposed to make important decisions about their lives. and plan their futures. one activity leads to the next. The relation between the past.

As we all in this audience know. money. 2002). In the process of working on his theory. 2007. p. 1992. Latour. 7 . vague meaning that is usually connected with figurative use of the word tool actually does not lighten the task of the researcher interested in the real and not the picturesque aspect that exists between behavior and its auxiliary devices. Haraway in the context of the so-called ‘Science and Technology Studies’. D. Must we think of thinking or memory as analogous to external activity or do devices play a certain role as a fulcrum giving support and help to the mental process? What does this support consist of? What. They can denote anything endowed with the ability to act. Latour. 1986. organizations. pp. Vygotskij shifted the focus of his attentions from the relationship between a child and an abstract sign to the communication between a child and another human and the mediators enabling this communication (Keiler. Here is that another notion comes into play – that of ‘practice’. The concept of mediation could be seen as a cornerstone of his theory and has been much discussed in sociocultural and cultural-historical psychology (Cole. But I will come back into this in a moment. Serres. concepts. 1991). Vygotsky. What is important here is that mediators are considered symmetrically to human actors. Stetsenko & Arievitch. 1999. First of all I would like to remind you Vygotskij in 1931 arguing that no scientist of his time – including himself – has managed to develop an adequate understanding of the role of signs and tools in child development: The indeterminate. etc. does it mean to be a means of thinking or memory? We find no answers to these questions among psychologists who willingly use these vague expressions. in general. 2004. Habib & Wittek. Pourkos. 381–384). including people and material objects: statements. Br. 1997. such designations obscure the road for research. the notion of mediation goes back to Vygotskij. 1931/1997. 1991. In this context a term used by actornetwork theory is the ‘actant’. occasionally used interchangeably). entities being studied. 1996. technical artifacts. 61). Lompscher. (Callon. Moreover. professions. Moving away from developmental psychology toward other disciplines one realizes that nowadays the notion of mediation is also widely used by M. ‘actants’ comprise all sorts of autonomous figures which make up our world (both terms are. 1934/1987. (Vygotsky. While ‘actors’ are normally understood as conscious beings. 1931/1997. Law. inscriptions (anything written). however. 1995. Not a single researcher has yet deciphered the real meaning of such metaphors. Even more vague is the idea of those who understand such expressions in a literal sense. Wertsch.

The CV as well as the file presented above – is related to the official school files. cards of absences and a series of other materialities. and self-controlled individuals (Foucault et al. not confined to the rigid categories’ traditional thought imposes (Pickering. 1995: 12-13). mediation here has two interrelated aspects: a) it is semiotic and b) it is material.e. materialized or objectified (Haraway.. Apart from these rather semiotic dimensions. 2008) and institutional or organizational memory (Middleton and Edwards. materialize and stabilize one’s development and at the same time mediate relations between the students and the teachers in the sense of Vygotskij but also enact relations between pasts and futures and structure organizational remembering and forgetting (Engeström et al.. Middleton. in the present. All these can be perceived as objects or mediators that organize. Miettinen. certificates. 1999) as well as have combined these theories and methodologies in learning research (Kontopodis. They bring together autobiographical memory (Fivush. teaches us how to think symmetrically about human and non-human agents (…). Brown. Shaping the institutional memory. In all these different contexts it is the CV or the file that carries memory rather than the teachers/ students themselves (Middleton et al. i. The CVs as well as the files shape both the individual memory of the student and the institutional memory of the school.. referred to. 2001). 1988) and eliminating the chances for broader and more radical societal changes. The CV or the file can thus be understood as an actantmediator that fabricates a particular past which is enacted each time the CV or the file is read. i. It is a signifying relation between signs..A few works which discuss the connections between actor-network theory and cultural-historical psychology have recently been published (Fox. but only in relation to other actants. 1990). Middleton & Brown. self-responsible. 2001). used etc. teachers’ memos. 1997). 8 . With ‘semiotic’ it is here indicated that the relation between the past and the present includes meaning. The semiotic relation between the past and the present is also material. 2009. the science of signs. what is very important is that the report has a material presence.e. students’ documents. 2000. Teachers and students can access this piece of information from very different contexts for various purposes. the CV or the file presented above does not carry meaning and functionality itself. this kind of ordering functions as a technology of the self— thus producing non-deviant. other documents. Sørensen. The agencies we speak about are semiotic ones. 2009). 2005. The CV is written in a particular way and in the same way the file is structured. 1990. In my view. Especially in the context of the current transformation of the social security system in Germany and other European countries. & Lightfoot. Pickering (1995) comments: ‘Semiotics.

care. 2004. For an unstable band of baboons. 1-2). and embodiment have been studied thoroughly in 9 . Scheffer. “orders are never complete. 1996). insanely so. 2008a). 1929/1991) s. 1972. therefore I am” (or “I become” in terms of Deleuze & Guatarri) is what the reader of Annmarie Mol’s recently published article in the new journal Subjectivity would say while pondering her/ his own subjectivity (Mol. Kamper. The research of Annemarie Mol is here of primary importance. The object. 1994). Food eating is not only essential for human and non-human bodies to survive. 2002). which in the Western modern world have emerged through the development of life sciences. 1987). 2008a. 87) Corporealities at Kindegartens One could say that the analysis presented above is a typical actor-network theoretical analysis which brings Latour in dialogue with Vygotskij and other developmental psychologists. 2005) and organizing time (Heidegger. the object (…) stabilizes our relationships. but it is also related to a series of practices. Indeed. One could characterize their history as unbound. makes our history slow (Serres. 2004). 1990. what remains invisible in the above-presented examples is the human body itself. Wulf. 1993. Walkerdine. ritualizing actions (Wulf & Zirfas. 1982/1995. also (Geissler. 1927/2001. Instead they are more or less precarious and partial accomplishments that may be overturned. social changes are flaring up every minute. institutionalizing events (Latour. regulating and channeling discursive processes (Foucault. stabilizing relations (Middleton & Brown. Mol studies food and drink and is developing a theory of the subjectivity of the ‘food-eater’––a person and a body who is not universal but is situated in local biologies (Lock. 1993. Moving beyond the actor-network theory Annemarie Mol has recently introduced the notion of the ‘food-eater’ as a way to speak about embodied action and subjectivity while avoiding the dead-ends of modern Cartesian epistemologies (Mol. However innovative this analysis might be. Practice. This endeavor is impossible to realize without objects which ‘slow down’ and ‘stabilize’ everything: In fact. What is more: there is no single order but “plural and incomplete processes of social ordering” (Law. p. They are in short better seen as verbs rather than nouns”. 2007). The methodology developed by Mol advances ethnography by exploring what and how people do (the ‘praxis’ in the so-called ‘praxiography’). Mol & Mesman.According to Law. “I eat. endless material-semiotic orderings formations have been established in modernity as ways of normalizing human development in school and educational settings (Morss. pp. 1993) and practices of preparing food. 1994. it slows down the time of our revolutions. for us.

The fieldnotes are noted here because they present different ways in which bio-scientific knowledge shapes or transforms everyday practices. both in a kindergarten in the former East Berlin and in another one in Brooklyn. one cookie. Christoph Heintze. 2003. teachers used a similar kind of material ordering so that children do not share any food but eat their own portion during snack time. 3 10 . Martin Lengwiller. teachers used small dishes made of glass. Tom Mathar. Bio-scientific knowledge is becomes here translated into everyday practices and transforms the way teachers are teachers. Following this relatively new research direction. teachers used small disposable plastic cups (no bigger than 3 cm3) and filled them with pieces of pretzels and crackers. In both cases the material ordering prevented children from sharing food—but why? What is very interesting is that the same thing happened for different reasons in Berlin and in New York: in Berlin. This practice belongs to a series of measures that have been initiated by the Department of Health in the last five years. Franklin & Ragoné. scientific politics and everyday practices of cardiovascular disease and prevention in Germany and USA3 During my ethnography in kindergartens and day care centers in Berlin and New York I observed the same thing: to my surprise. science and technology studies and other sub-disciplinary directions. The Health Department supervises both public and private day care centers and pre-schools in order to ensure that these measures are indeed applied (summary of different fieldnotes written in English by MK). a project which has investigated the history. as a teacher explained me. putting just one cookie on each dish while the children were out of the room. Franklin and colleagues (Franklin & Lock. this practice was supposed to prevent the circulation of germs and viruses which would take place if a child were to touch his/ her nose and then the food which other children were eating. Children are in both cases at this was a way to prevent fat children from eating more cookies than appropriate and belonged to a series of emerging obesity-prevention practices taking place in German kindergartens for the last five years. In New York. Jeannette Madarász. the way children are children and the ways teachers and children are related to each other. Katrin Amelang and Wolfgang Knapp for our cooperation in this project. Martin Döring. Haraway (2003. Jörg Niewöhner. even in fields that are not directly linked to biomedicine. Lock (2002). I ought special thanks to Stefan Beck.feminist studies. They then put the dishes on the table—one dish.html. in which I have been involved in. per child. however. In Berlin. they are not related to any disease or pandemic in particular. 1998). teachers are responsible for public health and food-eating is organized by means of a spatial and material ordering that ensures that children do not share food.e. Children here were sitting on the floor. In the last fifteen years in the context of the so-called anthropology of technoscience. instead each child received one cup when snack time began. In New York. See: http://www2. No children were allowed to participate in this activity. I would like here to turn to an example from another research project.

1999). They thus enabled new forms of control (Rose. ageing. It is argued that only in practice mediation occurs and material-semiotic relations are enacted or performed. Reprogramming genes. Rabinow (1996. 1993). Law. of peripheral participation. 1997. They brought together practices of economic change and development with gendering. however. some scholars influenced by the soviet cultural-historical activity theory–– including Marx as well as Hegel––refer to practice not as opposed to theory but as dialectically related to theory (Chaiklin & Lave. or of communities of practice have been employed here in fields as diverse as psychology. What I would like to focus on here is. 1993). one can also identify two distinct ways in which current scholarship speaks about practice. organs. The semiotic orderings described above in both cases imply that children should not participate in constructing the environments where their everyday lives take place. organ transplantation and other techno-scientific practices radically transformed what had been taken for granted as ‘natural’ and biological processes. in print). Mol and others the notion of mediation is interrelated to the notion of practice (Law. mice and dogs.2008). tissue cultures. but also… children and childhood. From this point of view. not the discourses themselves but the way in which they become enacted or materialized. genes. Both in the theory of Vygotskij as well as in the theoretical works of Latour. and others have extensively studied how new biology transformed the processes of life reproduction. drawing on our ethnographic material. while in New York the dominant discourse deals with viral infectious diseases. educational research or anthropology in order to develop an understanding as to how people participate in practices which are cultural-historically rooted and at the same time transform these practices in 11 . To begin with. Mol & Law. Taking into consideration the two different traditions – the cultural-historical one and the technoscientific one. theory is only meaningful to the extent in which it advances practice in the creation of a more equal society (Chaiklin. one could say that the dominant discourse in kindergartens in Berlin concerns cardiovascular disease and obesity. Also common to both Germany and the USA is that the educational authorities want to be up-to-date and use the latest bio-scientific knowledge to organize the everyday lives of children and teachers in kindergartens and day care centers. However. while raising a variety of ethical-political issues––sometimes challenging modernity itself (Latour. biopower is distributed through a range of techno-scientific practices which not only affect cells. 2004b). Theoretical concepts such as those of situated cognition. and doing kinship with humans and companion species. 1999). cells and micro-organisms. Our argument here is that biopower is not only limited to the direct applications of bio-technology.

and other objects to distribute food. 12 . 2008. and it is very easy to create different forms of presence and absence (Law. 2002. 1993). which usually are not dealt with in social sciences or in developmental psychology (Mol. Particular attention is paid here to corporeality and questions that regard health. which opposed theory to practice in an effort to understand psychological and social phenomena4. 1975). e. etc. They are small and can only contain one child’s snack.g. care and medicine – questions. In this context scholars speak of a ‘practice turn’ (Schatzki. This material arrangement enables specific action while making other actions impossible. Quite a different direction of theory and research draws on the tradition of pragmatism. 2004) in contemporary theory and speak about doing—doing things with words (Austin. not to viruses or cyborgs. 2008a. In both Germany and in the USA.emancipatory ways (Dreier. chairs. but at the same time they are easier to carry than dishes because the food will not fall out. The materiality of cups plays an important role in the American setting. different information materials + different teachers’ narrations + cups + pretzels + fat children (but no germs). doing class. doing disability (Moser. 2005. doing gender (Butler. educational reform. teachers have been very inventive in using tables. At the same time. foods in teachers’ and children’s decorating activities. 1979). 2004) so that one thing is taken out and the whole as such becomes different. 2008b). 1991). but this genealogy is not linear and is contingent in itself (Foucault. the various ‘things’ that participate in this practice might be enacted in very different ways in other practices: cups might be used in drinking water. etc. cups. and Western modernity. the floor. & Savigny. Hedegaard & Chaiklin. forthcoming). they do not break because they are made of plastic so that children can eat their snacks while sitting on the floor. snacks were served on small plates made of glass and the children were supposed to sit and eat at a table and observe very strict rules of movement enforced by the teachers. In the German kindergarten. One could say that it is only the coming together of information materials + teachers’ narrations + cups + pretzels + ill children + germs that makes each of these ‘things’ what they are—but this arrangement is unstable and fluid. 2006). 2001) or of a ‘performative turn’ (Wulf. The relation of these objects and subjects has a genealogy which can be traced back through public health policies. Lave & Wenger. Knorr-Cetina. 1971/1972. This arrangement reflected not only the different material aspects of the tools used (plates made of glass which might break and which 4 For a review article on contemporary theory on pragmatism and theory of practice see (Bogusz. dishes. Particular attention is paid here to collective forms of action and organization – although the notion of the ‘collective’ refers mainly to humans.

cannot be moved a lot without the food falling down). 2008. forthcoming). we could mention whole wheat bread. corporeal. The materiality of cups and dishes goes together with the corporeality of children who. but also a series of expectations about whether children are supposed to eat and move as adults-to-be (German kindergarten) or in very different ways than adults usually do (American pre-schools). an absent body. they are enacted in relation to other bodies or objects when various kinds of action take place (Law & Hassard. One could also say that corporeality and materiality are not pre-defined or given but are enacted or performed in relation to each other in the context of different practices. see (Haraway. and semiotic qualities of objects and bodies do not exist a-priori as ideal qualities.e. Law & Hassard. not only objects made of plastic. transforming material-semiotic orderings in a variety of everyday life settings (Haraway. embodied or materialized. Mol & Law. organic chocolates and fruit popsicles as examples of material-semiotic orderings which concerned the very essence of food and not only the way it was distributed or eaten. we could say that the concept of practice is of particular importance in analyzing how knowledge and discourse becomes translated. 2004a. In this regard one could eventually advance the understanding of mediation by speaking of material-semiotic arrangements or orderings (the slash between the material and the semiotic is here more important than the words themselves. the food itself was made in a healthy way—embodying different and hybrid forms of life-scientific knowledge as well as popular imaginations about what is ‘natural’ or ‘proper’ for children to eat. cups and plates mediate being at risk and enact or realize a set of possible relations between teachers and students rendering some other relations invisible or in-active. What becomes also clear in both examples presented above is that materiality or corporeality is intertwined with semiotics and discourse: CVs mediate development. 2002. Discussion and Open Questions Summarizing this brief analysis. 1997. 13 . by using these cups and dishes. It is only in relation to cups and plates that a body is performed and it is in also relation to CVs and files that a body is considered to be a mind – i. Referring to more ethnographic materials. Very often. moved in specific ways and ate healthy—whatever ‘healthy’ means in the different contexts. Moser. 1997) because material. wood or glass participated in the doing healthy-food-eating. 1999). I make use of the notion of practice here also in order to emphasize that the same thing can have different meanings and be done in a different way in the context of different cultural-historical practices––in relation to other things (see also: Mol. 1999).

g. Combined with other methodologies such as participatory role-play or film-making with children/ youngsters as well as with multi-disciplinary analysis ethnography can prove to be even more effective in exploring the complex and multiple material-semiotic becomings in which children/ youngsters participate in their everyday lives.e. the risk). The enacted temporalities are often multiple in the way e. I filmed this theatre play and discussed it later in combination with more video material with the children. organize. What is still very important in childhood studies – and with this I would like to close my presentation – is creating spaces in which the children/ youngsters themselves can participate in the analysis of the practices in which they are engaged as well as in their transformation. In the above-presented examples it becomes clear that endless material-semiotic arrangements can participate in a single action. direct. Ethnography offers a privileged access to questions regarding materialities and corporealities in children’s everyday lives and illuminates their particular roles and functions in concrete situations. that developing towards a given end goes together with avoiding another end (i. What is important as seen from an ethnographic or praxeographic perspective is not to analyze everything. 14 .Regarding the notion of “development” as such one could argue on the ground of the abovepresented analysis that development does not automatically and self-evidently occur “out-there”: development can be seen as a set of relations and materialities participate in the making of this set of relations. stabilize. their parents and teachers as well as with doctors working on obesity prevention and other colleagues. Here I asked children to play theatre and perform how they eat in their everyday life in the kindergarten. but what is important for the participants in a concrete practice and for the practice itself. My aim has been here to let children express themselves about the practices in which they usually engage in the kindergarten as well as to create a space for critical reflection about and eventually for collaborative transformation of these practices. produce and order it while enacting particular temporalities as well as spaces of “out-thereness” and an “in-hereness” (Law. Letting a window open for future research in this direction I would like here to conclude with an extract from my short film “Obesity Politics in Berlin Kindergartens”. Children and young people should not be reduced to objects of our research – but should and can actively participate in many ways in the research process and collaborate with researchers in doing research. 2004).

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