The location and context of research can have an influence on power relations in child research. One location which can have an affect on adult-child power relationships is school. School is a place where the adult-child power imbalance is particularly acute; it is also a place where a great deal of child research is undertaken. Citizenship is much in vogue currently; it is a compulsory subject at secondary school level. Current discourse about citizenship is that there should be recognition of difference and the giving of a voice to the socially excluded. Participation is central to this, but how far can children participate when the school environment pays little heed to the status of child citizenship.
In considering to what extent fear is a contributing factor in power relations between adults and children, it is important to define what is meant by fear and how it might affect children. Children experience many different types of fear or frightening situations during the course of their lives. Some of these situations will involve adults, and adults may use fear to control the actions or reactions of a child or group of children.
Adult researchers could also use fear either consciously or unconsciously to exert power over chid participants. The most obvious type of fear that children and young people may experience is the fear of immediate physical harm, this might be a real or imagined threat. Children may also experience fear or anxiety from entering unfamiliar surroundings or situations, this type of fear could be experienced by children taking part in research in a “lab” situation. Finally, children may be reticent in what they say for fear of future reprisals and may not express their true feelings, because they fear that the consequences of their actions may lead to punishment or the disapproval of others.
The first paper I have decided to evaluate is Gender Play: Girls and Boys in School By Barrie Thorne in The Reality of Research with Children and Young People Edited by Lewis et al. Thorne recognises the need to remember that she had to challenge her deep assumptions as to what children are really like. Thorne also states she was continually struck by the fact that he children were separated from the adults by structures of authority.
This authority must rely to some extent on the fear of the children as to the repercussions should they do something against the rules that adults have the power to put in place in the school environment. Another example of how fear contributes to the power that adults have over children is demonstrated in the paper when Thorne was making notes in the playground a girl asked if she was taking down names; voicing the fear of the children that Thorne was recording bad behaviour .The children involved in this research were quite clearly fearful of the consequences of being caught behaving badly or of breaking school rules. This is an example of adults using fear to control the behaviour of children.
The second paper I have decided to evaluate is Aldgate, J. and Bradley, M.Children’s Experiences of Short-term Accommodation in The Reality of Research with Children and Young People Edited by Lewis et al. There is no doubt that children in care are at a distinct disadvantage with regard to adult-child power relations. However, to what extent does fear appear to be a contributing factor to this power relationship. During the interviews with the children the researchers had to keep in mind that the children may conceal some of their feelings from them because they were concerned that something they said might upset their parents if it got back to them.
The researchers found that 41% of the children had anxiety about being accommodated, this fear of the unknown could be said to contribute to the children’s feelings of powerlessness. Other children cited a fear of a hidden agenda that they wouldn’t be allowed to go home again. One child had even expressed the fear that his foster carers might hit him. All of these examples show how fear can be used to contribute to the power that adults have over children. They felt that they had done something wrong or alternately that if they misbehaved whilst in foster care they might not be able to return home.
The researchers believed that some of the children’s anxieties could be lessened if they understood why the placement was necessary and could have some say about the arrangements. This could lead to a slightly more balanced power relationship between the adults and the children, thus reducing the fears and anxieties with regard to the forthcoming events, which could have the affect of empowering the children to a certain extent. Thus, in this case fear, whether intentionally applied or merely coincidental of the situation, does seem to contribute to the power relations between adults and children, to the advantage of the adults. When fear or anxiety is lessened or removed then it is possible that the balance of power might move back towards the child.
It would seem then that fear is one of the most potent contributing factors in power relations between adults and children. Many children like to please the adults that they come into contact with e.g. parents, carers and teachers at school. Fear of angering or upsetting these adults can help to moderate the behaviour of children, thus without actively meaning to adults can use fear to strengthen their power over the child or children that they are responsible for. Fear of actual or threatened physical violence is also a tool to increase the power that adults have over children.
Adults are usually bigger and physical stronger than children and even the merest hint of physical violence would be strong enough to frighten many children in complying with the wishes of an adult. Adults do not actually have to consciously use fear to increase their power over children, the mere fact that children fear some perceived threat or consequence of their actions is enough to make them subordinate to the adult in any given situation. It is evident from the research papers that fear in children makes them more compliant to adults’ wishes and thus fear is therefore a major contributing factor in power relations between adults and children.