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Using a cultural-historical framework to show societal, institutional and personal influences on learning : a case study of an Australian early childhood community

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posted on 13.01.2017, 01:16 authored by Ridgway, Avis Florence
This thesis uses a cultural-historical framework to show societal, institutional and personal influences on learning through a case study in an Australian early childhood community. Scope for cultural-historical research in this community was supported by my associations over time, as a former teacher (1976-1979) and later as field researcher for an Australian Research Council (ARC) project (Fleer & Gunstone, 2005a). These associations provided temporal perspectives, which brought a dialectical frame of reference to the present case study. In particular, when community, family and institutional practices were temporally juxtaposed using dialectical methods, the research question was prompted: How do artifacts and cultural traditions become institutionalized, transmitted and reinterpreted in next generations, thereby shaping what is possible or not in early childhood education? Cultural-historical research rarely makes social pathways of childhood learning and development visible in empirical data. The literature review focused on analysis of a series of empirical studies in order to find out how other researchers interpret childhood learning and development from a cultural and historical perspective. A common theme in the reviewed studies was how researchers examined social practices over time in different institutional settings. In looking to uncover how researchers understood the epistemological origins of those institutional practices, it became evident that a new methodological tool for analysing and theorizing practices over time was required. In this case study, field research was approached using a cultural-historical frame of reference. Particular attention was given to seeking different perspectives. The use of archival materials and visual dialectics, prompted narratives around local contexts, past and present, providing examples of mediation practices that reside in institutional artifacts, rituals, traditions, and family life in the early childhood community. In a series of photo-elicitation interviews with past and present staff and one family, visual and transcript data provided opportunity to create methodological dialectics around community and societal practices, family practices, and institutional and teaching practices. From these data, it became evident that a new methodological tool that could focus on reading meaning into methodological dialectics was needed; a tool that could analyze the historical influences in childhood learning and development, and show enduring influences of cultural-historical mediations in institutional practices over time. The conceptualization of a new methodological tool for analysing methodological dialectics is the major achievement of this thesis. The methodological tool is applied and tested throughout three data chapters to varied data sets. In each of these applications it is able to show dynamic forms (hereafter: Dynamic-forms) of the cultural-historical processes at play in childhood learning and development. Influences on learning across participatory institutional practices of children, family and staff in the case study site were examined over a thirty-year time span and in this Australian early childhood community, practices were found to be transformed over time as they were iterated and re-iterated in relation to societal, institutional and personal practices. This thesis has a methodological outcome. The new methodological tool theorizes social, cultural, and historical influences in childhood learning and development, thereby adding to cultural-historical scholarship.


Campus location


Principal supervisor

Marilyn Fleer

Year of Award


Department, School or Centre

Child and Community Development FRG Peninsula


Doctor of Philosophy

Degree Type



Faculty of Education