Concepts & Trends


Millei, Z. & Sumsion, J. (2011) The ‘work’ of community in Belonging, Being and Becoming: The Early Years Learning Framework for Australia. Contemporary Issues in Early Childhood. 12(1) 71-86.

This article articulates the appeal of different conceptualisations of community to the curriculum writers of Belonging, Being and Becoming: the Early Years Learning Framework for Australia and to the Council of Australian Governments that
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  Contemporary Issues in Early Childhood Volume 12 Number 1 2011 71   The ‘Work’ of Community in Belonging, Being and Becoming: the Early Years Learning Framework for Australia ZSUZSA MILLEI   School of Education, The University of Newcastle, Australia  JENNIFER SUMSION School of Teacher Education, Charles Sturt University, Bathurst, Australia    ABSTRACT This article articulates the appeal of different conceptualisations of community to the curriculum writers of Belonging, Being and Becoming: the Early Years Learning Framework for Australia  and to the Council of Australian Governments that commissioned the Framework, and the tensions within and between those respective conceptualisations. It then traces shifts in conceptualisations of community and the work done by community across the first publicly released draft and the final version of the Framework. Attributing these shifts, at least in part, to the Rudd government’s risk averseness, it concludes that despite the severely contained nature of community in the final version of the Framework, there remains space for what Rose terms ‘radical ethico-politics’ and for working towards a more socially just society. Introduction Community is one of the most pervasive and seductive terms in early childhood studies and policy making internationally, perhaps because of its potential to offer solutions to problems of modernity, such as security and freedom. As Bauman (2001, p. 16) argues, in the insecure conditions of modernity, the notion of community fulfils a longing for what is missing, a ‘shelter of security’. Community ‘feels good ... it is good “to have a community”, “to be in a community” ... Community, we feel, is always a good thing’ (Bauman, 2001, p. 1). Community in its sociological sense, where people can belong, with certainty and forever, however, is rarely available in today’s globalised and individualised world (Bauman, 2001). Nevertheless, or rather as a result of this rarity, the longing for security and belonging continues to feed our hopes of experiencing community. Yet the notion of community is not without tensions. As Bauman (2001, p. 4) reminds us, to be in a ‘real community’ comes with the price of losing freedom or autonomy due to allegiances we owe to members of the community, thus ‘gaining community, if it happens, would soon mean missing freedom’. For Rose (1999), community is a seductive solution for problems of modern government (security and freedom) for two interrelated reasons. First, community offers associations and respect for multiple identities formed through belonging to different cultures. Consequently, it offers solutions for the loneliness, insecurity and lack of confidence generated by a ‘mass society’. Second, community enables a type of state regulation where freedom of associations and self-formation are respected but, at the same time, the government of citizens’ conduct is ensured. Government works through the moral fields and emotional binding of communities by providing ways for ‘framing of moral responsibility in terms of identity, values and belongingness’ (Rose, 2000, p. 1408). Thus, community presents novel ways for the state to govern the conduct of individuals through the exertion of non-political forms of authority, seemingly independent of the  Zsuzsa Millei & Jennifer Sumsion 72 state and apparently offering the very freedom it seeks to deny. Reconciling the idea of community and freedom, therefore, is always difficult and never tension-free. Our aim in this article is to tease out the work done by community in Belonging, Being and Becoming: the Early Years Learning Framework for Australia (Australian Government Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations, 2009; hereafter ‘the Framework’). Adding another problem of modernity – that of equality or equity, raised by the French Revolution – we are interested in tracing shifts in conceptualisations of community, and the solutions it is perceived to offer to these problems, from the first public draft of the Framework released in November 2008 to the final version approved by the Council of Australian Governments (COAG) in July 2009. To this end, we draw on Bauman’s (2001) and Rose’s (1999, 2000) articulation of the tensions inherent in community, and particularly on Rose’s notion of ‘ethico-politics’ to explain the shifts in conceptualisations of community and to argue that within the final version of the Framework, it is possible to reclaim space for democratic politics for a more equitable society. The article takes the form of a loose chronology of the development of the Framework, interwoven with theoretically informed analyses of the shifting notions of community. In keeping with Bauman’s (2001) observation that the idea of community has near universal appeal, we contend that for the curriculum writers and for the COAG alike, the notion of community afforded hopes of security for young children and, more broadly, for the longer-term security of Australian society. We suggest, however, that in many respects, there was a marked difference in the curriculum writers’ and COAG’s respective notions of security and community, their hopes for the work that community might do in the Framework, and the solutions it might provide. In the chronology that follows, we trace the relative ascendancy and decline of these different notions of community. Before proceeding, we provide a brief overview of our analytic methods. A Methodological Note In tracing the work done by community, we used two analytic methods: concept mapping, using the Leximancer text data-mining software package, and phenomenographic analysis, informed by theorisations of community.  Leximancer Concept Mapping Leximancer performs a type of automated content and network analysis based on statistical algorithms (Smith & Humphreys, 2006).[1] By displaying information extracted in a two-dimensional visual form, it provides a ‘birds [ sic ] eye view of the material, showing the main concepts contained within the text and how they are related’ (University of Queensland, 2008, p. 5).  As Leximancer concepts are ‘collections of words that generally travel together throughout the text’ (University of Queensland, 2008, p. 28), they are unlikely to have the complexity of meanings traditionally associated with the notion of concept in ‘researcher-driven interpretative coding’ (Hewett et al, 2009, p. 1735). Hence, Leximancer is not intended to replace researcher interpretation and judgment (Smith & Humphreys, 2006). It was beneficial for the initial phase of our analysis, however, because its automated nature served a ‘bracketing’ function that distanced us from the data (Penn-Edwards, 2010) and helped us guard against reading into the data what we anticipated seeing. The bracketing function was particularly important given the second author’s key role in the development of the Framework. Figure 1 indicates the prominent concepts in the first public draft of the Framework (Version 1) [2], while Figure 2 indicates the prominent concepts in the final version (Version 3). As with all Leximancer-generated representations, the larger the dot representing the concept, the more central its location and the more prominent the concept. The lines between the concepts indicate the main semantic connections between the concepts and can be ‘read’ in whatever direction is most meaningful.[3]  Phenemonographic Analysis Intrigued by the shift in the location of community in the Leximancer concept mapping, our aim in the second phase of the analysis was to identify and describe differences in conceptions of  The ‘Work’ of Community 73 community within and across the two versions of the Framework. Following Penn-Edwards (2010), we undertook an inductive phenomenographic-style analysis that involved identifying all instances in which ‘community’ appeared and manually sorting the concepts of community inferred from the ideas discussed in the surrounding text. In particular, we focused on types of communities (for example, families, wider communities, cultural communities), the work they did (for example, providing a source of knowledge and opportunities for co-learning) and the principles on which they operated (for example, reciprocity, partnerships). Our theoretical understandings of community informed this process of categorisation. In our analysis of shifts in dominant notions of community across the first and final versions, we drew, in part, on our knowledge of the political and policy context in which the Framework was created. Figure 1. Leximancer-identified concepts in the first publicly released draft of the EYLF (Version 1). Context for the Creation of the Framework In late 2007, the Australian people voted the Australian Labor Party back into office after 11 years in opposition. The incoming prime minister, Kevin Rudd, in his first speech to Parliament as leader of the Opposition the previous year and in two widely cited articles (Rudd, 2006a, b), had outlined his social democratic vision for the country, based in part on a commitment to equity and community. Although he did not elaborate on his notion of community, his writing was imbued with words such as ‘care’, ‘compassion’, ‘reciprocity’, ‘trust’, ‘justice’ and ‘civic commitment’. The same themes were echoed in his subsequent early prime ministerial speeches. For many  Australians, Rudd seemed to promote a more principled and ‘decent’ society than the neo-liberalist economic policies of the previous Howard coalition government (1996-2007) had afforded (Marr, 2010). One of Rudd’s earliest acts as prime minister, for example, was to make a formal apology to the Stolen Generation of Absrcinal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, a highly symbolic act of national significance and reconciliation between indigenous and non-indigenous Australians that his predecessor, John Howard, had refused to countenance (Marr, 2010). In his apology speech, Rudd (2008, p. 173) invoked ‘a future where all Australians, whatever their srcins, are truly equal partners, with equal opportunities and with an equal stake in shaping the next chapter in the history of this great country, Australia’, and concluded: ‘Let us turn this page together ... let’s grasp  Zsuzsa Millei & Jennifer Sumsion 74 this opportunity to craft a new future’. The emotional impact of his appeal to redress injustices through building a more inclusive community led Manne (2008a, p. 31), an academic and political commentator, to comment that ‘in the politics of nations, there are few transcendent moments. This was one.’ In a reference to the apology, even one of Rudd’s most trenchant critics acknowledged the authenticity of Rudd’s ‘instinctive sympathy for children and for the survivors of wretched childhoods’ (Marr, 2010, p. 38). To many within the early childhood sector, it seemed possible, therefore, that under the Rudd government, the concerns of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (2006) about the need for Australia to have a clearer vision for early childhood education and care might be addressed and, moreover, that the vision might be one underpinned by social democratic principles of social justice. Figure 2. Leximancer-identified concepts in the final version of the EYLF (‘Version 3’). The Rudd government was also elected on the promise of an ambitious platform of sweeping reform of Australia’s social and economic infrastructure, including early childhood education and care. The COAG (comprising Australia’s federal government, six state and two territory governments) was given responsibility for steering these reforms, an ambitious move given the long history of often acrimonious interstate and state–federal relations (Moon & Sharman, 2003). The cross-sectoral consortium that was awarded the government tender to develop and trial the Framework comprised a mix of academics, service providers, representatives of early childhood peak organisations, consultants and practitioners from around the country (Sumsion et al, 2009). Within the consortium, a small group undertook the actual writing of the Framework (hereafter, ‘the curriculum writers’). The second author of this article (Jennifer) was co-leader of the consortium and one of the curriculum writers.[4] The curriculum writers, along with other consortium members, were committed to demonstrating respect for diversity and difference in standpoints and perspectives, which they considered crucial to imbue in the Framework, while working to a common purpose and shared goal of advancing social justice. Like many within the early childhood sector, the writers were buoyed by the election of the federal Labor government that proclaimed a socially progressive agenda, and by promising signs of the new government’s interest in fostering democratic engagement at a community level.[5] They were hopeful that the COAG would embrace a national early years learning framework constructed around social democratic ideas about community and an explicit commitment to social justice.  The ‘Work’ of Community 75 The First Version of the Framework: possibilities for democratic politics The first publicly available draft of the Framework was released in November 2008.[6] The Leximancer-generated concept map of the draft Framework (Figure 1) locates ‘communities’ in a cluster of concepts along with ‘families’, ‘belonging’, ‘respect’, ‘diversity’ and ‘perspectives’. These concepts are connected to ‘children’ through ‘educators’, appearing as if children’s experiences (of families, belonging, respect, and so on) were mediated by the ‘educators’ in ways that contributed to developing new understandings. Figure 1 also positions educators as mediating children’s learning more broadly. Interestingly, in the final version of the Framework, the position of ‘educators’ is reconfigured to become less central (see Figure 2). In Figure 2, ‘children’ and ‘educators’ are connected through ‘learning’, and ‘community’ is also connected to ‘learning’ rather than to ‘educators’. Thus, ‘learning’ becomes a more prominent concept and the main endeavour (rather than, for example, relationship building) becomes connecting children and educators. The positioning of communities in Figure 1, when read through our phenomenographic analysis, conveys a focus on relationships, inclusiveness and social reciprocity, and the ‘ethical dimensions of teaching, learning and relationships in early childhood settings’ (Australian Government Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations, 2008, p. 4). This idea is further explicated in the vision articulated in the first version of the Framework to create places in early years settings that are based on ‘reciprocal relationships’ and the mutual ‘obligation of being together’, and where children feel they belong. The Framework delineates a concept of community that reflects ‘friendly and welcoming places’ where both adults and children benefit from community life. They are also places where the future is being built based on ‘fairness, democratic principles, reciprocal rights and obligations, equality of opportunity, improving equity and overcoming social disadvantage’ (p. 4). The Framework’s vision unquestionably states that educators’ ‘obligation’ is to ‘achieve equity and social inclusion’ through the enactment of children’s rights (p. 4). It advocates for diversity in perspectives and the discussion and deployment of diverse perspectives in practice. Through proposing democratic principles based on ‘Australian democratic traditions’, it urges early childhood educators, children, families and communities to work ‘together to create a just and fair society’ (p. 5). At its core, therefore, we argue that the first version of the Framework adopts a position of ‘transforming society’ which rests on the belief and possibility to create a better world that extends ‘possibilities for justice in public life’ (Mac Naughton, 2003, p. 182). Hence, the first version of the Framework offers a solution to create ‘communities in which all participants – children, educators and families – are welcomed, feel a sense of belonging and are active, valued contributors’ (Australian Government Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations, 2008, p. 6), challenge bias (p. 5) and create ‘socially just solutions to unjust situations’ (p. 6). It is proposed in the first version of the Framework that in these communities, consultation with children takes place, children’s perspectives in decisions are accounted for and acted upon, and that their contributions to community and their agency are facilitated, respected and responded to. The Framework positions early childhood settings as sites for politics to ‘transform society’. The educator appears as an agent of politics who is reflective about ‘issues associated with power, control and social justice’ (p. 12), as the Leximancer reading implies. For example, when discussing play, the document places it in ‘a space for politics and power relations, where children are excluded on the basis of gender, age, size, skin colour, proficiency with English, class, ethnicity, sexuality and more’ (p. 8). It prescribes that the role of the educator is to ‘work with children to challenge power assumptions and create play experiences that promote equity, fairness and justice’ (p. 8). In sum, on the one hand, the community of early childhood settings is imagined as ‘friendly and welcoming places’ (p. 4) based on reciprocal relationships, where children belong and which offer security for children. On the other hand, in this community, a space is opened for democratic politics based on children’s participation and consultation in the present, with an outward political agenda emphasising equity and justice; put simply, a politics for transforming society. Our question is, however, what kind of politics is possible, through communities, that can also build on security  – in this case, the obligations that come with being together and the allegiances we owe to each other? Or, in other words, does finding commonalities and creating a ‘friendly’ community for
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