A multimodal, gender analysis of the ‘kitchen corner’ in the early childhood education settings: a place for reproduction of gender stereotypes?

Online Talk

When: Friday 29th October 2021

Mia Heikkilä, Åbo Akademi University, Finland.  

Associate Professor in Early Childhood Education at Åbo Akademi University in Vasa, Finland.

If you go to a Swedish early childhood education (ECE) unit you will most probably find a dedicated space where furniture such as a kitchen-like table and chairs forms a smallish kitchen like in a home, perhaps combined with a smallish bed, a baby doll stroller and in some cases also some dressing clothes. In a three-year research- and development project we analysed and rebuilt ECE units rooms, and within that process we saw how this particular space became a room for reproducing gender stereotypical norms and ideas. We asked; How can rooms and interior be formed for play to include all kinds of children, and how can children’s own play dominate the creation of ECE rooms? This will be discussed through social semiotic concept affordance (Kress, 2003, 2010). Educational spaces are filled with social signs, here seen as affordances, that in different ways feed social interaction in certain directions in rooms, and in this case also to reproduce gender stereotypical play (Francis, 2000, 2010; Blaise, 2005, 2012). The data analysed emerged from a combination of video observation material as well as photo-elicitation and interviews with both children and teachers in ECE. One aspect of the results show how change of gender stereotypical norms can be achieved by changing the design of the interior using the same furniture in another context. 


Mia Heikkilä is Associate Professor in Early Childhood Education leading the research- and teacher team in Early Childhood Education at Åbo Akademi University in Vasa, Finland. She is also guest research leader at Dalarna University in Sweden. Her research themes includes educational organisations, school development work and leadership, with a red thread including gender, gender equality, social justice and learning. Social semiotic multimodality forms the basis of her understanding of communication, learning and meaning making.


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