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The development of children's political competence in a primary school: A quest

Bosse Chitty, R C

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R C Bosse Chitty


This research explores how children recount and account for their developing political competence at primary school. To access participants’ experience and perceptions of political participation and agency and the structures and practices within which they operate, I designed a post-structurally informed ethnographic study for a large junior school in the South West of England. The result was a range of qualitative and participative data gathering methods which emphasised the importance and value of children’s voices and testimony: interviews, observations, diaries, analytical discussions and ethnographic field notes. The resulting data comprise a collection of participant accounts and interpretations of living and learning in school. In contrast to my research approach, my findings identify a construction of the child as deficient, incompetent and untrustworthy, destabilising children’s emergent confidence as political beings and severely limiting the effectiveness of educational initiatives to engage them in active political participation. As a result, forms of political participation and self-expression are muted: children are encouraged to develop a conservative, self-preserving form of agency hidden from view and often characterised by self-doubt and self-suppression, counter to curricular expectations of political participation in school and community life. However, using Foucauldian theoretical tools, I argue that some children’s responses to the pressure of the school’s normalising structures and practices creatively build an effective, but subaltern, political competence, allowing children to exercise agency in strategic conformity and resistance. Being unrecognised, though, outside the surveillance of the curriculum and its enforcers, this learning is not readily available for teachers and the school to engage with and nurture. This presents both a missed opportunity for primary education and a threat to the stability and sustainability of children’s credible political agency. Empowering children requires seeing them as politically capable and competent, rather than lesser adults, deficient and lacking in citizenship competence.


Bosse Chitty, R. C. The development of children's political competence in a primary school: A quest. (Thesis). University of the West of England. Retrieved from

Thesis Type Thesis
Publicly Available Date Jun 6, 2019
Keywords political participation, political competence, children, primary school, citizenship
Public URL
Award Date Feb 25, 2015


The Development of Children's Political Compentence in a Primary School_A Quest_Rosie Bosse Chitty.pdf (10.9 Mb)

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