Children's engagements with violence : a study in a South African school
This thesis is an account of a qualitative study which set out to explore the meanings for children of living with violence. Using a social constructionist epistemology, I examine how, through social relationships, children (co-)construct beliefs, values and practices in relation to violence, and consider the implications for violence prevention. Set in the changing context of post-apartheid South Africa, the study was located in a primary school in a township of Cape Town, where gangsterism, criminal and domestic violence were rife. With 36 children (aged 8, 10 and 13 years), I carried out a series of semi-structured interviews and group sessions, using participatory data-gathering techniques to explore themes of relationships, conflict and violence. Further ethnographic data was gathered through playground observation, working as a classroom assistant, and parent and teacher interviews. Forms of discourse analysis, blending frameworks from developmental psychology, social psychology and sociology, were used to analyse children's talk, thus creating a fine-grained analysis which is sensitive to children's creative engagement with multi-layered social relations. This emphasis on children's active construction of meaning differs from much of the social science literature, which assumes a uni-directional relationship and casts children as passive victims, sometimes caught up in a 'cycle' of violence. The study reveals some of the complex, contradictory and shifting ways in which children engaged with violence in the social fields of the neighbourhood, peer relations and in adult-child relations. Three psycho-social processes were central to these engagements: control (agency), connection (inclusion) and coherence (sense making). But striving for control, connection and coherence generated tensions and conflicts. In managing these tensions, children sometimes colluded with and perpetuated forms of violence, but they also found ways to contest violent social relations. I construct a framework to illustrate these relationships, and consider how interventions, using this framework, can work with children to reduce the possibility of violence.