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Peacemaking and children

April 17, 2013

Elly Singer‘s work is great! … and while her work is in the field of early childhood, I actually think it has a certain relevance to YA lit too…. In a Keynote speech (for the 2003 Early childhood convention, Palmerston North), she made some of the following points:

“In our research we focus on peacemaking and not on conflicts. Much of the past research on conflicts has been motivated by the assumption that peace can exist only in the absence of conflict, a view commonly referred to as negative peace (Butovskaya, Verbeek, Ljungberg & Lunardini, 2000). Therefore research was aimed to get insight into the causes of conflicts in order to prevent them. During the past decades researchers have increasingly turned their attention to positive peace, that is, the relational processes that actively promote constructive solutions of conflicts (peace keeping) or through relational repair in the aftermaths of conflicts (peace making) (Verbeek & De Waal, 2001). Conflicts are seen as inevitable and even as necessary for the development of constructive social relationships.” (p.75)

“Human beings are genetically endowed with moral and prosocial capacities; they are social beings by nature (Vygotsky, 1978; De Waal, 2002). But this does not mean that there are no significant cultural variations in the way peer interactions and peace keeping is organised. Strategies of peace keeping behaviour emerge slowly out of children’s interactions with others and reflection on those experiences. Children appropriate specific styles and cultural tools for peace keeping that are common in their family, childcare centre, school or in the cultural group they belong to.
There have been few studies of cultural differences in young children’s peace keeping, but these are nevertheless telling. In this respect Corsaro (1988, 1997) has done important pioneering work. He introduced the concept of  ‘peer cultures’ to study the peer relations of young children in Italian and North American day care centers and preschools. He defined peer culture as ‘the children’s common and continuous attempts to grasp and control a social order, which is presented to them by adults, but that later becomes their own reproduction’ (Corsaro, 1988, p.1) Every group has his own written en unwritten rules. Carmen Dalli (2002) beautifully analyzes how a two-years old boy who is starting day care quickly learns the rules of the group through peer conflicts. On the one hand Corsaro pointed out that children co-construct shared meanings and their own norms and rituals during joint play; they create a children’s world relatively apart from the adult’s world. Related to peace keeping we can think of the verbal strategies to express togetherness we have just discussed; for instance specific nonsense words that become a hype in a group of children. Nonverbal strategies can also be ritualized and become highly popular in a group. On the other hand Corsaro pointed at young children’s use of concepts, abilities and values that they have acquired from their parents and teachers. For instance to say sorry after a transgression, or to shake hands and kiss to repair the relationship.
Corsaro (1988; 1977) found that children in different cultural contexts used different strategies to resolve conflicts.” (p.80)

Motivation to peace making is strengthened when human beings experience a sense of belonging, and an awareness of mutual dependency and assistance.” (p.83)

Questions provoked by this reading in my head (questions to put to YA fiction texts, that is) include:

  • what examples of peer conflict are there (in the text)?
  • how are they resolved?
  • what strategies (including verbal and nonverbal) are used by both parties to resolve the conflict?
  • what is the purpose of resolving the conflict?
  • how does the conflict shape the character within the narrative?
  • what purpose does this conflict have in the plot?
  • what victim/aggressor terminology is used?
  • in what ways do the protagonist and his/her peer group engage in managing their interpersonal relationships?
  • is aggression used by any of the characters? (which ones and for what purpose?)
  • [Note: Singer points out that aggression can be a tool of competition and for negotiation of power relationships.]
  • what strategies are used to express togetherness?
  • [Note: Singer refers to Dorian de Haan who “found four general verbal strategies to express togetherness: by expressing experience of common ground; in language aimed at cooperation; by expressing compassion and care for other children; and by labelling friendship (De Haan & Singer, 2001)”]
  • in what ways do adolescent characters avoid conflict / avoid the escalation of conflict / persist with conflict?
  • what are the outcomes of the conflict?
  • what benefits does togetherness have? How is this evidenced?
  • how is togetherness connected to conflict in the text?

Ref: (Note: I got my copy from work and it is paginated, but not properly referenced, so I need to track the reference down…)

(italics in original; emphases in blue bold mine) Elly Singer Peacemaking among young children in multicultural centres. 8th Early Childhood Convention, Palmerston North.  September 22-25, 2003

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