Macquarie University
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Young thinkers without borders: critical consciousness, social justice and resistance : the experiences of young street children in Mumbai, India

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posted on 2022-03-28, 11:03 authored by Zinnia Mevawalla
It is theorised that power snakes its way through the veins of every society, imposing restrictions and freedoms in unequal measures upon those privileged and “othered”. Freire (1970) critiques “banking” systems of education which recycle power inequities in society, thereby raising the importance of oppressed groups resisting “naturalised” injustices and taken-for-granted assumptions through critical consciousness and a motivation for social justice. Early childhood development (ECD) is particularly relevant to this endeavour, given that institutionalisation and enculturation to ideologies have been shown to develop in the early years of life. Meanwhile, it is now widely accepted that experiences in the early years have lifelong effects on individuals and societies. Several analysts therefore suggest that ECD is a promising entry-point for social justice – particularly in low and middle-income (LAMI) contexts and with vulnerable or disadvantaged communities (Campbell et al., 2014; Heckman, Moon, Pinto, Savelyev, &Yavitz, 2010). This research investigates the lived experiences of critical consciousness and social justice in a cohort of young street children living in Mumbai, India. The study applies a critical pedagogy lens. Through this lens, critical consciousness and social justice are viewed as theoretical, pedagogical, cultural and ideological ways of thinking, being and doing. Critical consciousness in this study is defined as a process or way of thinking, which interrupts dominant or exclusive social and political powers, in order to achieve social justice. Social justice is defined as the struggle for transformation against unfairness, marginalisation, discrimination and oppression. The study was conducted over a six-month period with a group of ten street children, aged 3-8 years who attended a drop-in centre run by a non-government organisation (NGO). The study was informed by phenomenology and used the Mosaic approach to collect data with the young children. Data included observations, field notes, drawings, photographs and informal conversations. In this thesis, analyses based on resistance theory, and critical pedagogy focus on critical consciousness and social justice arising from children’s experiences of political and social oppression across several (micro and macro) contexts. The study shows that when children are motivated by social justice, but not critically conscious, their thoughts and behaviours assimilate to dominant ideologies (conformist resistance). However, when children are critically conscious and motivated by social justice, they show resistance to authoritarian figures in educational sites and on the streets. This resistance opens possibilities for transformation as children find alternative ways of solving problems, which reveals the emergence of a sense of social justice through dissent (transformative resistance). This thesis unpacks the ethical and political power relations underpinning resistance by highlighting how child participants demonstrated understandings of critical consciousness. It is argued that educators can support the emergence of socially just praxis in early childhood systems by building on children’s (resistant) agency. Particular attention is given to implications for research, pedagogy and educational praxis.


Table of Contents

Chapter 1. Introduction -- Chapter 2. Theoretical framework -- Chapter 3. Literature review -- Chapter 4. Methodology -- Chapter 5. Research context -- Chapter 6. Findings -- Chapter 7. Discussion and conclusion.


"Children and Families Research Centre, Institute of Early Childhood, Faculty of Human Sciences, Macquarie University" -- title page. Theoretical thesis. Bibliography: pages 405-437

Awarding Institution

Macquarie University

Degree Type

Thesis PhD


PhD, Macquarie University, Faculty of Human Sciences, Institute of Early Childhood

Department, Centre or School

Institute of Early Childhood

Year of Award


Principal Supervisor

Kathy Cologon

Additional Supervisor 1

Jacqueline Hayden

Additional Supervisor 2

Fay Hadley


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1 online resource (xix, 458 pages) colour illustrations

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