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Who am 'I': Reauthoring self, stories and subjectivity in research with children

The ‘new’ sociology of childhood sees an emergence of interdisciplinary approaches to understanding self, experience and subjectivity of children. As debates frame research with children, concerned with ‘ethics’ (Daley, 2015; Gorin et al, 2008) and
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  Who am 'I': Reauthoring self, stories and subjectivity inresearch with children Journal: Global Studies of Childhood 11(3) Manuscript Accepted Manuscript Type: Conceptual PieceKeywords: 'Analytical Idealism', Children, Consciousness, self Abstract: The ‘new’ sociology of childhood sees an emergence of interdisciplinary approachesto understanding self, experience and subjectivity of children. As debates frameresearch with children, concerned with ‘ethics’ (Daley, 2015; Gorin et al, 2008) and‘agency’ (Larkins, 2019; Oswell, 2016), what is meant by the ‘subject’ of experienceis given little attention. In this paper, I ask whether narratives are a truerepresentation of ‘self’; who is the ‘experiencer’ that stories refer to and what are theimplications for claiming subjectivity through narrative structures? I suggest that‘experience’ is an irreducible quality of reality that transcends personal self, and thata core subjectivity serves as the dative of experience (Kastrup, 2018), ‘ as naturessole ontological primitive (2018, p137). Understanding self, experience andsubjectivity in line with an ‘Analytical Idealism’ (Kastrup, 2016, 2017a, 2017b, 2018,2019), offers fresh insight into current sociological debates in Childhood Studies. Keywords ‘Analytical Idealism'; Children; Consciousness; Narrative; Self; Self-enquiry; 'Secondattention epistemology'; SubjectivityThe ‘new’ sociology of childhood sees interdisciplinary approaches to the study of and research with, children (see –Holloway & Valentine 2000; Larkin, 2016; Mayall,2002; Mereweather, 2013; Morrow, 2008). Recent compelling theoretical andontological contributions to the study of childhood can be seen in both critical realistinterpretations (see-Larkins, 2016, 2019; Kizel, 2019), adding ‘ theoretical reinforcement...on relatively    enduring patterns of disadvantage and potential powers ’(Larkins, 2019, p1); and new materialist explanations (see Barad, 2007; Delueze &Guittari, 1987: Connolly, 2013) that seek to explain relations between individuals,objects and non-human forces. Historically, ‘children in Western societies have beenseen as objects of concern rather than as    persons with voice’ (Lewis, 2010, p 14).Now, children are increasingly viewed as ‘ competent social actors’ (Dixon et al,2019, p10) with an authority grounded in lived experience. Across the minority world,children’s selves are largely explored through narrative representations. For childrenin majority world contexts, agency is largely unexplored (see Punch, 2016), requiring‘ cross-cultural dialogue’   (Punch, 2016) to understand children’s ‘selves’ in moremeaningful ways. As debates frame current practice around researching withchildren, concerned with ‘ethics’ (Daley, 2015; Gorin et al, 2008) and ‘agency’(Larkins, 2019), what is meant by the ‘subject’ of experience is given little attention.How we understand the nature of the ‘I’ of children is limited. In this paper, I willargue that most research processes with children in the Western world are rooted inpostmodern ideas of selfhood and individualism (see Giddens, 1991), with sparseexploration of what self, experience and reality constitute and are constituted by. Iexplore self, experience and reality in the context of Childhood Studies, suggestingthat narrative is not synonymous with ‘self’, nor does it represent the experiencer. Iargue that a core subjectivity is the primary ‘ dative ’ of all experience (Kastrup, 2018),located ‘within’ and ‘without’ human and non-human beings. Exploring children’s  subjectivity within a consciousness-only ontology has global relevance inunderstanding a shared, primordial ‘I’ of experience; that transcends personhood,context and culture. I consider tensions between ideas of personal selves andassemblages as self, that are found in current postmodernism and posthumanapproaches, in Childhood Studies. Seen as an under problemitisation ‘ of the politicsof voice, authenticity and experience’ (Oswell, 2016, p23). I propose how Kastrup’s(2017a, 2017b, 2018, 2019) ‘  Analytical Idealism ’ can reconcile current tensions insocial sciences between self as story, reflexive agency and posthuman ideas; in turnmaking significant contributions to the field of childhood studies. The paper does notseek to deny the value of children’s stories in research work which informs the studyof children. Instead, it offers further emancipatory ideas aimed at disentanglingchildren from inner narrative constructs in which a limited sense of self emerges.Where stories can become tools for self-enquiry. A further aim of the paper is to offer a broader interdisciplinary approach towards the study of children, in research andmore broadly, within the ‘new’ sociology of childhood. Childhood, Research and the Story ‘I’ Childhood studies are traditionally situated within an ontology of socialconstructionism. For childhood studies, social constructionism has historicallypositioned children as ‘a   variable of social analysis always positioned against other variables ’ (Oswell, 2016, p16). Postmodern views of children assume a reflexiveagency in the form of storytelling (see Prout & James, 1990). Stories demonstrate aweaving of personal, social, cultural and political forces, appealing to social research‘ because of its unmasking of the seemingly    natural as contingently constructed [opening up] possibilities for intentional personal and    social change’ (Alanen, 2015,p160). Despite its potential to ‘unmask’ forces which condition the personal, socialconstructionism ‘ reduces experience to a single dimension’   (Heinich, 2010).Prioritising minds and language through ‘ a move [were] textuality has all    but replaced the more traditional concept of reality’ (Hein, 2016, p126). This has led tostorytelling as a more significant source of knowledge production (see –Wexlar et al,2012; McNamara, 2011). Traditional and now digital ethnographies (see Dennehey & Arensman, 2019) see stories gathered ‘ as [youth-produced] representations of their everyday lives, values and identities ’ (Wexlar et al, 2012, p478). This is a worthyfocus, particularly in environments were children are disempowered and silenced.The perceived value of collecting stories as authoritative knowledge about self andexperience is rooted in long-standing ideas about ‘self’ and ‘identity’ (see Frank,1995; Giddens, 1991; Labov & Waletsky, 1969; Raccour, 1991). Frank (1995) claimshow stories equate to self, as it is by ‘ listening to others and telling our own storiesthat we become who we are’   (p77). Frank (1995) constitutes stories as more than adescriptive tool ‘ they are themselves the medium of being’   (p53). Assuming thatthere is ‘ no self to be discovered outside of narrative’   (Aatola, 2019, p3). Narrativeidentity (see Raccour, 1991) is treated as ‘self’ and has in Childhood Studies and inresearching with children, ‘  paved the way for underlining the significance of hermeneutically interpreting and recounting the self  ’ (Aatola, 2019, p3). Self or ‘identity’ in postmodern ontologies is a fluid and fragmented process,continually shaped and reshaped in interaction with the social world (see Giddens,1991). Stories ‘ have always been important, but now, life is fitted in a reflexivemodernity fostering a    particular culture of storytelling’ (Sandberg, 2016).Contemporary storytelling in the form of personal narratives, depart from ancient and  traditional narrative functions. Now, narratives ‘act as a way of reaffirming oneself inan era that interrogates identities and selves’   (Charon, 2006 – cited in Aaltola, 2019,p2). In this way, narrative (re)constructs identity and offers epistemological expertisein a process of meaning-making. Narrative becomes the anchor when self is elusiveand fragmented, while challenging systems which position society as a ‘  passive,faceless group’   (Aatola, 2019, p2). Those concerned with narrative enquiry (see -Bamberg, 2011; Georgiokoupoli, 2007) are starting to question the relationshipbetween narrative and self, asking ‘ why at all do we   rely on stories as seriated events of what actually happened when attempting to draw up   a sense of who weare?’ (Bamberg, 2011, p18). Postmodern ontologies posit discursive realities (seeFoucault 1982, Fairclough & Chouliaraki, 1999), where narrative plays a significantrole in locating a sense of self in dialectical relations (see Fairclough & Chouliaraki,1999; Harvey, 1998), with institutional, social, cultural and behavioral elements of social life. Personal narratives are deeply intertwined with the grand institutionalnarratives that shape Childhood Studies and current research with children. Newapproaches to critical and philosophical reflexivity in practice (see - Larkins, 2016,2019; Kizel, 2019, Warin, 2012) are starting to address this. Yet, this is not just aboutbecoming more reflexive and critical about social roles, identities and practice. Itcalls for a deeper understanding of what self, experience and reality is within thestudy of childhood; and the roles that subjectivity, narrative and agency assumewithin it. What may be required is a truer enquiry into what we mean by ‘I’.  Approaches that start from the authority of children, place narratives as a coresource of knowledge production, of a body-rooted subjective ‘I’. Ontological concernswith the nature-of-child are concerned with the nature of child in relation to the social,and not in and of itself. As Oswell (2016) notes: ‘a statement about what children are is also a statement about their capacity to change the organisation of the social world in which they live. This strong ontological claim is articulatedwith a strong methodological claim regarding, not only how wemight, but how we should investigate the beingness of children.Namely, the agentic presentness of children is understood interms of children’s lived experiences’(Oswell, 2016, p16)The ontological nature of children is sought through the story ‘I’ as the authority of experience; without problematising the nature of the story ‘I’. As Nietzsche notes(see Spivak,1974), the story ‘I’ may be a “specifically linguistic figurative habit of immemorial    standing” (p26) . It is true that stories have a significant value for makingsense of the world. Stories validate points of view (Thornborrow, 2000), maintainfamily bonds (Blum-Kulka, 1997), co-create peer relationships (Bamberg &Georgikopouli, 2008) and negotiate and renegotiate a sense of self. Storytelling is aconsistent feature of everyday talk (see Norrick, 2000) and the ‘tellability’ (Labov &Waletsky, 1967) of personal stories are important for self-worth and a sense of belonging within community settings. Stories function as valuable tools for socialization and can promote a sense of belonging for children. Yet the value placedon assigning self to the ‘I’ of the narrative can disempower children. As MacSweeneyet al (2018) recognise, ‘a change in the nature of this focus is required– from one in  which young people are the subjects or characters of research efforts to one whichthey are active agents or authors’ (MacSweeney Et al, 2019). Children can only startto author and reauthor their stories when they can see that they   are not their stories.The synonymizing of self, experience and reality in research with   children meansthat the ‘subject’ of experience is taken for granted. Sustaining an idea   that childrenare their stories, whether painful or soothing. If narratives are synonymous   with self,then experience and reality are irreducible to story, in a postmodern   understanding.On this premise, painful stories, so often (but not always) conveyed by children inresearch, assume a sense of self. When professionals proclaim how important storyis, internal reification of ‘I am my story’ takes place; where ‘f  ocus is on personal becoming and the commitment to shaping oneself as a human being’ (Aalotola,2019). Stories assume and are assumed to carry an enacted agency. ‘Agency’ isdebated and contested in current childhood studies (see Larkins, 2019; Esser, 2016;Oswell, 2016) and as Larkins (2019) suggests is a term ‘ used without clear definitions’ (p2). What needs to be added into discussions around agency is theprocess of children assessing and discerning personal inner narratives about self,others and the world. The Ontologies of Children and the ‘I’ of experience The suggestion that children are not their stories does not intend to discount aninherent subjectivity, as is the case in posthuman approaches, such as newmaterialisms (Haraway, 1998; Bennet, 2001; Barad, 2007; Delueze & Guitarri 1987).Delueze & Guittari (1987) and Barad (2007) inform a new wave of childhoodsociology ‘ where   children’s agency might be assembled and infra-structured withinand across a range of    devices, materialities, technologies and other sentient bodies’  (Oswell, 2016, p26). Posthuman theories displace a human subject, and in manyrespects, the nature of direct experience, rejecting personal narratives in favour of aflat, non-subject ontology. A tension between the value of agent reflexivity andposthuman theories (see Simonsen, 2012) frames current approaches across socialsciences, impacting upon childhood studies and in understanding children inresearch processes. New materialisms ‘ have also emerged as an important movement in qualitative inquiry’ (Hein, 2016); influencing research with children.New materialism approaches have been especially useful in the study of very youngchildren and how they experience the world (see - Mereweather, 2019). Children’sembodied and sensory experiences are seen as a primary enactment of livedexperience, replacing conceptual narrative structures. This embodied and non-localsubjectivity emphasizes a natural ‘ worlding of children that does not divide childrenand nature or nature and culture   but instead proposes mixed up worlds in which all manner of things co-exist’   (Mereweather, 2019, p). Human beings are therefore seen‘ as collective assemblages   that zigzag across time ’ (Hickey et al, 2013,p183).Delueze & Guattari (1987) suggest that ‘ there is no individual enunciation ’ shiftingfocus away from an individual subject towards ‘ the necessarily social character of enunciation ’ (p79). For Delueze & Guitarri, there are no structures nor genesis of subjectivity and therefore, no agency. Differences are an accidental result of ‘ complex networks of forces, relations, connections and    becomings ’ (Hein, 2016).Barad (2007) does claim an agential agency dispersed across things, rather thanbeing an attribute of subjects and objects; an agency ‘ that is doing or    being in itsintra-activity’ (Barad, 2007, p178). Subjectivity and agency is an entangled affair.Delueze & Guitarri (1987) and Barad (2007) make significant contributions indestabilising a core, subjective and separate self. For research with children,  understanding subjectivity and agency as intra-connected has real benefits for collective action, but extraordinary benefits for self-empowerment, if the idea of anindividual agency can be reconciled within it. The dualistic nature of mind and matter sits in tension with the monastic underpinnings of posthumanism, where ‘ new materialist not interrogate the material conditions of the separation of the mental and material  ’ (Rekret, 2016, p180). Nor do they enquire into the ‘I’ of experience.   The nature of self, whether viewed from the perspective of mind or matter, remains a   mystery. If postmodernism pulls apart knower from known andposthumanism collapses   knower and known, we are still left with questions aroundthe knowing element of all   experience. The knowing ‘I’ in which all phenomena(including mind, matter and the   world), is known. As Oswell (2016) notes, ‘ it is anunderstanding of children’s agency that is very much dependent and unfinished  ’(p26). Reconciling the ‘I’: An ‘Analytical Idealism’ ontology The ' knowing of being  ’ (St Pierre, 2016, p103) needs deeper exploration, not just incurrent childhood ontologies, but across social sciences. Agency of children, whether viewed from postmodern or posthuman approaches centers on ‘ the self-present subjectivity of children [that] is left unquestioned’ (Oswell, 2016, p16). Kastrup(2017a, 2017b, 2018, 2019) suggests that the ‘I’ of experience is situated out of mind, body and time, offering an ontological view that ‘makes more sense of reality in a more    parsimonious and empirically rigorous manner than mainstream physicalism ’ (2018p125). Kastrup (2017a, 2017b ,2018, 2019) proposes an Idealismontology, differing from traditional Idealism in its analytical and logical argumentsabout the nature of reality, self and experience. Analytical idealism has the potentialto ‘ open viable new avenues for    addressing the key questions left unanswered incurrent platforms ’ (p126), not only in philosophical and scientific areas, but I wouldargue, in the field of Childhood Studies. Especially in a climate of posthuman/antihuman theories which posit self as an assemblage of universal forcesand fields. Disciplines that are starting to cite Kastrup’s work include Philosophy(Sjostedt, 2015), Meteorology (Rowan & Littlefield, 2018), Education & Learning(Bilyk & Sheremet, 2019; Horokhov & Zhukova, 2018) and Cosmology (Albahari,2018).Kastrup (2018) begins by addressing the current problems within mainstreamphysicalist ontology, that sees reality as constituted by material ‘ultimates’ that areoutside and independent of phenomenal consciousness. It is this ontological premiseupon which Childhood Studies is situated in and from where children are viewed asdiscrete, material objects. Kastrup (2018) posits how experience cannot be reducedto material ‘ultimates’, that are only constituted by relational qualities (mass, chargeand spin). The ‘Hard problem of Consciousness’ (see Chalmers, 1995) asks howsubjective experience can emerge from ultimates.  As Kastrup points out, there ‘ is nofact about ultimates that imply, a priori, facts about experience’ Kastrup, 2018, p129).Kastrup (2017a), notes that the objective world is not a self-evident given, in fact ‘what we call the world is available to us   solely through images –defined herebroadly-so to include any sensory modality –on the   screen of perception, which itself is consciousness ’ (p46). This is not to imply a solipsism, where everything exists in apersonal mind. Rather, Kastrup (2017a, 2018, 2019) refers to a ‘ mind at large ’(synonymous with ‘Cosmic Consciousness’ -see Shani, 2015), in which all things(mind and matter) exist within. Physicalism according to Kastrup (2017a) is an
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