Becoming a preschooler: A study of children’s relations with their teachers, peers and objects and the implications these relationships have in terms of becoming a “preschool student”

Lok Tin TSE

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Theses


The aim of this qualitative study is to understand how children aged between three to four years of age acquire the identity of a “pre-school” student within a Chinese context. By drawing on Foucault’s work in relation to various related discourses, as well as Actor Network Theory (ANT), this ethnographic study also tries to appreciate the role and place of objects in terms of children becoming “preschoolers”.

The fieldwork that underpins this study took place at three Hong Kong preschools. These schools were selected because of their differences, as well as their similarities, in terms of approaches in delivering the curriculum. Qualitative methods, including observations and interviews, were used to capture children’s interactions with one another, with adults, and, importantly, with objects. A journal was kept throughout the study period and this, together with photographs of classroom life, enabled me to critically reflect on the study, so as to make sense of the lived experiences of the preschool students.

This study stems from the poststructuralism and posthumanism premise that there are no universal or absolute truths in relation to acquiring a preschool identity. As a consequence, there is no attempt to produce “findings” in a scientific sense. However, the study does add to our knowledge and understanding of the process by which children acquire a preschool identity, and explores the profound role that objects play within these processes.

By drawing on two theoretical frameworks, I was able to make two significant moves. First, Foucault’s work enabled me to appreciate how children are disciplined and regulated into what constitutes the “normal” or “ideal” preschooler. Foucault also allowed me to recognize how children themselves can undertake three practices: “refusal”, “curiosity”, and “innovation”, so as to experience alternative modes of being.

Second, ANT allowed me to appreciate that objects have agency and are therefore actors. As “lively matter”, objects co-mingle within relationships, flows, and movements that circulate in and around the preschool classroom. The ways in which objects form alliances with children within the networks echoes Bennett’s work on “agentic capacity”, which emerges from but is not limited to human intention. It is in and amongst networks that becoming a preschooler which echoes with Barad’s idea of “intra-active becoming” takes place.

The study is cautious in terms of developing taxonomies of practice for early years teachers. However, I believe that this study could potentially challenge how practitioners ordinarily think of young children and objects. From a personal perspective, undertaking this study has challenged my habitual assumptions and understandings of young children. I no longer think that children’s development occurs within linear models of development. I have also come to see objects as actors who can enter into symmetrical relationships with humans and, together, “stuff” happens. It is this “stuff”, which includes affect, joy, frustration, and so on, that makes the project of becoming a preschooler an open-ended, always in-progress project. This means that, in view of developing more appropriate practices in future, I will try to live with multiple meanings concerning the “preschooler”. All rights reserved.
Original languageEnglish
QualificationDoctor of Education
Awarding Institution
  • The Education University of Hong Kong
  • TAM, Po Chi, Pansy 譚寶芝, Supervisor
  • JONES, Elizabeth Mary, Supervisor
  • WONG, Mun Amanda, Supervisor
Publication statusPublished - 2019


  • Becoming a preschooler
  • Discursive practice
  • Actor-Network Theory
  • Role and place of objects
  • Multiple meanings
  • Theses and Dissertations
  • Thesis (Ed.D.)--The Education University of Hong Kong, 2019.


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