In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Advocacy and Activism in Early Childhood

  • Introduction
  • Reconceptualist Theory
  • Advocacy and Activism for/with/by Early Childhood Professionals

Education Advocacy and Activism in Early Childhood
Zinnia Mevawalla, Nathan Archer
  • LAST MODIFIED: 26 May 2022
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199756810-0291


The literature on advocacy and activism in early childhood spans across multiple disciplines including those related to the care, development, and education of children from birth to eight years of age. Advocacy can be defined as the proactive promotion or awareness-raising of a cause or barriers (e.g., barriers to participation, inclusion, and equity). Advocacy aims to influence change in ways of thinking, being, and doing across micro- to macro- level contexts (for example, within family-educator relationships and at the policy level). This literature overlaps with scholarship on activism. However, there are also many tensions and conceptual differences in understandings of advocacy and activism, with writers suggesting that advocacy involves working within systems and structures, while activism involves an element of resistance (e.g., protest, civil disobedience, etc.). Given the synergistic nature of overlaps, for the purposes of this article, key works that focus on the intersection of activism and advocacy have been included. However, we acknowledge that the broader literature on concepts related to activism such as resistance (unpacked by seminal scholars—most notably, Peter Moss, Glenda Mac Naughton, Hillevi Lenz Taguchi, and others), are not the focus of this piece as they constitute a closely related, but separate, body of literature. The article therefore remains focused only on activism and advocacy in early childhood, and is organized in five main themes: (a) reconceptualist theory, activism and advocacy, (b) advocacy and activism for children and families, (c) advocacy and activism by children and families, (d) advocacy and activism for/with/by early childhood professions, and (e) enabling and mobilizing advocacy and activism. Reconceptualist theories are central to much scholarship in early childhood (see for example, the seminal book series Contesting Early Childhood, published by Routledge). In particular, as a reconceptualist lens is often used in discussing advocacy and activism-related early childhood topics such as quality, leadership, social justice and professional identity—a section on reconceptualist theory, activism, and advocacy is included here at the outset. Advocacy and activism for children and families involves professionals across international contexts advocating for issues affecting children (such as childhood obesity) and is largely led by practitioners—such as healthcare professionals, educators, social care workers, civil society organizations, and other allied professionals or entities (e.g., faith-based organizations)—in order to meet children’s needs and/or improve outcomes for children and families. Advocacy and activism by children and families involves writings on advocacy initiatives led by families and children—for example, families advocating for their children’s rights to quality education where their child experiences disability. Advocacy and activism for/with/by early childhood professionals is focused primarily on self-advocacy for those working in early childhood sectors. This section investigates work on the understandings and practices of practitioners in advocating for improved professionalism, greater valuing of early childhood in policy and practice, and better status, pay, and working conditions—particularly for early childhood educators. The themes of leadership and enabling and mobilizing advocacy investigate works where individuals and organizations seek to empower and support individuals (including children, families, teachers, pre-service educators, etc.) to engage with/in advocacy. This includes research on leadership, advocacy training, activism tools, and articles highlighting pertinent gaps where advocacy and activism skill development is needed. As far as possible, this bibliography includes only recent literature (from 2012).

Reconceptualist Theory

Counter to modernist, Western, and Enlightenment logic, in the context of early childhood the reconceptualist movement has challenged standardization, decontextualizing and totalizing discourses—for example, arguing that bio-psycho-social, cultural, historical, political, and economic factors can influence how children develop, and that therefore imposing deterministic and singular notions of child development requires deeper questioning and consideration. Scholarship in this area includes a range of theoretical lenses, from critical theories, post-colonization, post-modernism, and post-structuralism, to feminist theories. Often writing from an explicit social justice position, reconceptualist writers have increasingly called for greater advocacy and social activism in terms of both policy and practice (e.g., Bloch, et al. 2018), often focusing on specific issues such as gender equity (e.g., Smith, et al. 2017). Others have demonstrated how activist-practitioners and activist-scholars are central to supporting agency and social change for children, families, communities, and fellow practitioners (e.g., Cannella, et al. 2016; Yelland and Frantz Bentley 2018).

  • Bloch, M. N., B. B. Swadener, and G. S. Cannella, eds. 2018. Reconceptualizing early childhood education and care: A reader. Critical questions, new imaginaries & social activism. New York: Peter Lang.

    This key book in the reconceptualist movement of early childhood education and care (ECEC) presents contemporary theories, debates, and political concerns regarding early education and childcare around the globe. It contains four sections: Foundational Debates and Continuing Questions, in which authors remember the history of the reconceptualizing early childhood education and care movement and pose questions for the future; two sections, New Imaginaries and Diverse Imaginaries, which describe new directions for policy and research; and a final section, Social Action and Activisms, in which the authors highlight issues of policy and practice within the context of multiple theories and approaches.

  • Cannella, G. S., M. S. Pérez, and P. A. Pasque. 2016. Envisioning a politically activist critical social science: Reflections on reciprocal mentoring. In Critical qualitative inquiry. Edited by G. S. Cannella, M. Salazar Perez, and P. A. Pasque, 171–194. London: Routledge.

    In this chapter, the authors explore key questions around how to embody politically activist and critically qualitative social sciences. Drawing examples from their work in early childhood studies, the authors discuss the co-construction of mentor-mentee relationships, and the ways in which these can facilitate activist scholarship and scholarly activism.

  • Smith, K., S. Campbell, and K. Alexander. 2017. Moron, sick, and perverted-injurious speech: Advocacy for gender equity in early childhood. International Critical Childhood Policy Studies Journal 6.1: 96–105.

    This critical literature review uses concepts of performativity, injurious speech, and deconstructive talk to rewrite and push back on the dominant discourses of gender-identity and childhood innocence. The authors conclude that there is a collective responsibility on how we talk, write, speak, and perform advocacy work that combats sexism(s), heterosexism(s), and gender-based violence in its many forms.

  • Yelland, N., and D. Frantz Bentley. 2018. Found in translation: Connecting reconceptualist thinking with early childhood education practices. New York: Routledge.

    This book unpacks reconceptualist perspectives with “conversations” that bridge theory and practice in early childhood. With authors from across a range of diverse contexts, notions of activism and agency are pervasive across chapters in this text on reconceptualist thinking in early childhood (e.g., chapter 5). The text emphasizes the role of, and need for, activist-practitioners and activist-scholarship in early childhood.

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