In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Feminist New Materialist Approaches to Childhood Studies

  • Introduction
  • Childhood Research and Methodology
  • Gendered Childhoods
  • Sex/ualities Education, Healthy Relations, and Childhoods
  • Anti-colonial, Decolonial, and Anti-racist Orientations
  • Neurodiverse and Dis/abled Childhoods
  • Childhoods in the Anthropocene and Capitalocene
  • Childhood Theories, Philosophies, and Practices
  • Childhood, Play, and Everyday Encounters
  • Childhood Literacies
  • Childhood Art and Music Practices
  • Childhoods and Digital Technologies
  • Movement and Childhoods

Childhood Studies Feminist New Materialist Approaches to Childhood Studies
Sid Mohandas, Jayne Osgood
  • LAST REVIEWED: 20 February 2024
  • LAST MODIFIED: 20 February 2024
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199791231-0286


There is a growing body of feminist scholarship that has taken up “new” materialisms to research childhoods. Feminist “new” materialisms, as the name suggests, are marked by a renewed attention to matter. In previous feminist research, such as those informed by feminist post-structuralist and sociocultural approaches, matter was assigned an inert, passive, and determinate role; a substrate on which language and discourse acted upon. In contrast, new materialist ontology views matter as lively, active, and indeterminate, and inseparable from the discursive as expressed in the concatenated term “materialdiscursive.” This is to by no means put feminist post-structuralisms in opposition to new materialist thought, or to assume a radical break from past feminist interventions; instead, feminist new materialisms hold onto the advances made by feminist post-structuralisms while simultaneously expanding its focus beyond just language and discourse. While the “new” in new materialisms is an attempt to distinguish itself from older forms of materialisms such as Marxist-inflected materialism and “scientific” materialism, the claims to “newness” have been a matter of contention. As pointed out by Indigenous and Black scholars like Eve Tuck, Zoe Todd, Zakiyyah Iman Jackson, Uri McMillan, and Tiffany Lethabo King, Black/Indigenous philosophies and cosmologies in diverse locations have held similar views for centuries and millennia, where nonhuman agencies, transient materialities and human-nonhuman relations marked by reciprocity have shaped Black/Indigenous lifeworlds. The feminist inflection of “new” materialisms invite such productive frictions, to ensure West’s hegemony is disrupted while simultaneously enacting care in how Indigenous/Black thought is brought in conversation with new materialisms. In line with other critical approaches in childhood studies, feminist new materialisms disrupt Western humanist and developmentalist approaches, troubling linear, individualized, and deterministic notions of childhood. Childhood is viewed as a leaky, messy and indeterminate terrain, always already more-than the bounded “child.” This is not to undermine the advances made in childhood studies to enhance children’s agencies via multimodal listening, rather such agencies are viewed as inseparable from the nonhuman world. Donna Haraway’s concept of “naturecultures” and “diffraction,” Karen Barad’s agential realist concepts such as “intra-action” and “phenomena,” Stacy Alaimo’s notion of “transcorporeality” and “material memoirs,” and Jane Bennet’s “thing power” all enable disrupting human exceptionalism produced through forced cuts and boundaries imposed by Western epistemological traditions. Foregrounding the entanglements of matter, discourse, affect, temporalities, place, and space offers critical and affirmative possibilities in the field of childhood studies.

Childhood Research and Methodology

Feminist new materialisms have shaped the methodological approaches adopted in researching childhoods. As is the case with all feminist research approaches, Diaz-Diaz and Semenec 2020 highlights how feminist “new” materialisms as a research method and practice is concerned with what concepts “do” and how they can be put to work to make a difference. Similar to other approaches that unsettle enlightenment humanism, Osgood 2020 and Osgood 2023 argue that feminist new materialisms displace the childhood researcher as the arbiter of knowledge, instead foregrounding entangled authorship, where knowledges and worlds are produced in intra-action with nonhumans, other humans, and the more-than-human world. This means moving away from binaries of objectivity and subjectivity—i.e., instead of viewing the childhood researcher as in the world extracting “data,” the researcher is envisaged as of the world that is iteratively being produced. Moreover, a feminist materialist approach opens avenues for experimentation in childhood research through creative, artistic, embodied, and transformative practices and methods, as demonstrated in Cahill, et al. 2016; Osgood and Pacini-Ketchabaw 2017; Holmes, et al. 2018; and Warren 2022. Further, although the humanist “human child” is decentered, this does not imply children are erased from the research process. On the contrary, the notion of “child” and “child agency” is stretched and expanded to disrupt the divisive distinction drawn between human societies and natural environments. In fact, opportunities are presented to enact research with children that offer insight into complex more-than-human relations that produce childhood realities (Hohti 2016, Somerville and Powell 2019), and common worlds inherited (Hodgins 2020).

  • Cahill, Helen, Julia Coffey, and Kylie Smith. “Exploring Embodied Methodologies for Transformative Practice in Early Childhood and Youth.” Journal of Pedagogy 7.1 (2016): 79–92.

    DOI: 10.1515/jped-2016-0005

    Using a feminist new materialist framework, the paper examines the work of Australian educators exploring the use of embodied creative drama-based methodologies to support children in articulating and negotiating the effect social norms have in their everyday world.

  • Diaz-Diaz, Claudia, and Paulina Semenec, eds. Posthumanist and New Materialist Methodologies: Research after the Child. Singapore: Springer Nature, 2020.

    The edited collection is produced through interviews with nineteen key and emerging early childhood scholars who discuss methodological and ontological issues related to research with children.

  • Feminist Thought in Childhood Research. Edited by Jayne Osgood and Veronica Pacini Ketchabaw. London: Bloomsbury, 2017–.

    The series includes feminist scholarship that explores the use of creative, experimental new materialist methodologies to address various aspects of childhoods.

  • Hodgins, Denise, ed. Feminist Research for 21st-Century Childhoods. London: Bloomsbury, 2020.

    The book is a collection of stories from field research with educators, children, and student-educators. Each story presents a method in the form of a verb that the authors have put to work in their efforts to unsettle the interpretative power of Euro-Western developmentalist and anthropocentric knowledges.

  • Hohti, Riikka. “Children Writing Ethnography: Children’s Perspectives and Nomadic Thinking in Researching School Classrooms.” Ethnography and Education 11.1 (2016): 74–90.

    DOI: 10.1080/17457823.2015.1040428

    The article presents ideas of children writing ethnography as a participatory ethnographic approach that focuses on lived moments that highlight children’s becoming with all the other elements (human and nonhuman) that coexist in such moments. This is achieved by attuning to the particularity of moments of children writing “what is happening in the classroom.”

  • Holmes, Rachel, Liz Jones, and Jayne Osgood. “Mundane Habits, Ordinary Affects, and Methodological Creations.” In Research Handbook on Childhoodnature: Assemblages of Childhood and Nature Research. Edited by Amy Cutter-Mackenzie-Knowles, Karen Malone, and Elisabeth Barratt Hacking, 259–275. Cham, Switzerland: Springer International, 2018.

    By dislodging objects from habitual assumptions, the authors, through experimental methods, draw on two early-years projects as generative examples for what else gets produced when matter, materiality, and affect are foregrounded.

  • Osgood, Jayne. “Becoming a Mutated Modest Witness in Early Childhood Research.” In Ethics and Research with Young Children: New Perspectives. Edited by Christopher M. Schulte, 113–128. London: Bloomsbury Academic, 2020.

    Following Haraway, the author argues for a “successor science,” through the figure of a “mutated modest witness,” that reworks the idea of researcher objectivity by recognizing their situated, entangled, and implicated place in the early childhood classroom.

  • Osgood, Jayne. Postdevelopmental Approaches to Childhood Research Observation. London: Bloomsbury, 2023.

    DOI: 10.5040/9781350369764

    With contributions from scholars from Canada, Norway, the UK, and the US, the book considers new postdevelopmental ways of enacting childhood research observation, and thereby challenging traditional developmentalist approaches to observation that dominate research into children and childhoods.

  • Somerville, Margaret, and Sarah Powell. “Researching with Children of the Anthropocene: A New Paradigm?” In Educational Research in the Age of Anthropocene. Edited by Vicente Reyes, Jennifer Charteris, Adele Nye, and Sofia Mavropoulou, 14–35. Hershey, PA: IGI Global, 2019.

    DOI: 10.4018/978-1-5225-5317-5.ch002

    Enacting the methodology of deep hanging out the authors demonstrate ways to do research with children in the age of the Anthropocene that foregrounds doings, movement, and (non)sense making of children.

  • Warren, Alison. “Crafting a New Materialist Care Story: Using Wet Wool Felting to Explore Mattering and Caring in Early Childhood Settings.” Matter 3.2 (2022): 113–136.

    By engaging with wet wool felting, the author presents a new materialist methodological account that complicates the notion of care as networks of reciprocal, intra-active, more-than-human relations.

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