[Germany, Japan] Practices of collective addressing? Observations on the "programme" in a Japanese child day-care centre from a German research perspective - Projects



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[Germany, Japan] Practices of collective addressing? Observations on the "programme" in a Japanese child day-care centre from a German research perspective


Working from a perspective informed by international comparative research, this article presents observations on the production of an "early childhood education programme" in Japanese children's day-care centres, and considers these in the light of the logics of practice in equivalent German facilities. The empirical basis was provided by the author's field visits to German and Japanese children's day-care centres. In concrete terms, the study focuses on the production of everyday organizational structures and routines. Particular areas of interest are the logic shaping of the production of an early childhood "programme" in these two different cultural contexts, and the social practices underlying the concept of "programme"; these are empirically examined here.
In terms of the theory applied to the present subject matter, this analysis uses a conception based on practice theory. As a sensitizing concept, this encompasses the routine social practices produced by bodies, spaces and organizational artefacts, and is meant to render them comprehensible as a complex set of events. In other words, it is a matter of working out how a "programme" is created as a logic of practice, i.e. what objects and phenomena are produced in the process. In terms of methodology, the analysis relies on concepts from comparative ethnography to identify the defining modes and logic in the field and to clarify the connections between them. The article begins with a theoretical introduction to the subject and the questions arising from this. It then presents an ethnographic design of the study, before moving on to a sample analysis of the results. It concludes with a brief comparative analysis.

Keywords: Ethnography, Child Day Care, Japan and Germany, Comparison
(1) Introduction

The present study is primarily based on three data sources. First, a research visit to Japan in autumn 2014 made it possible to investigate and analyse fundamental contexts relating to the Japanese system of education and care for children *1. This proved to be an extremely helpful opportunity to establish a serious foundation for the subsequent research - especially in view of the different cultural, social and political contexts. A second data source was the result of a longer field visit to a children's day-care centre in a large Japanese city in spring 2016, carried out as part of a further JSPS-funded research visit to Japan, entitled "Ethnographic Quality Studies in Japanese and German Day Care for Children". A third and final data source consisted of selected findings from the research project "Profile der Kindertagesbetreuung" ("Profiles of children's day care"), conducted at the German Youth Institute (Deutsches Jugendinstitut e. V.). This project is an empirical examination of the conditions in which daily routines and interaction are created in various children's day-care settings.

In the present article, the broadly conceived research question centres on one selected dimension, the creation of a "programme." This choice of focus requires an explanation. First, reducing one's focus to the observation of a single phenomenon helps to manage the complexity of social reality from an empirical perspective by blocking out any other points of view or objects. In terms of the dimension of intercultural comparison, this reduction also allows more precise identification and explanation of the specific contours of "programme." Finally, an empirical examination of the creation of a "programme" offers a particularly good opportunity to reconstruct the logics underlying its implementation, because a "programme" is largely generated through organizational and structural conditions and artefacts, which can be made accessible to observation.

In terms of subject matter, a "programme" is understood to mean whatever is presented to the children as a regularly recurring learning arrangement within a firmly structured framework, at the initiative of the teaching staff. Within such a "programme," the staff teach the children about certain social and cultural subjects or material objects, generally always in the same place, the idea being that the children will absorb and practise these things. Here the product to be learnt is always already determined at the beginning of the "programme." To ensure that this happens, the "programmes" are framed by means of various strategies and reproduced several times a week according to fixed rituals. The teachers ensure that the intended product is learnt by addressing the children as a group, using this social "collectivization" to counteract any potentially divergent behaviour of individual children towards the learning arrangements. The social and educational effect of the "programme" on the children is heightened if the order of the programme items and their logic of implementation are firmly internalized by the staff. Such teacher-led programme arrangements are thus diametrically different from situational, child-led educational arrangements, which arise spontaneously and are not directed towards any particular outcome.

In the following remarks, the analysis of several observation sequences in a Japanese children's day-care centre will be used to illustrate how a "programme" of this kind is implemented as a logic of organizational practice, and what it looks like from the perspective of international comparison. Against the background of this analytical focus, the present study specifically investigates why and how early childhood education "programmes" are created, by empirically examining the social practices underlying what is referred to as a "programme."

(2) Theoretical contextualization: social practices as subject matter

For an empirical reconstruction of "programme phenomena," approaches based on practice theory are an obvious way to achieve a sharper focus, insofar as they allow comprehensive decoding of observed social processes in the framework of the relevant local and situational contexts. Approaches based on practice theory thus offer a broadly conceived line of enquiry. This ties the empirical phenomena to the everyday circumstances in which they are formed, and aims to describe different practical implementations in their multifarious modalities (Hillebrandt, 2009, p. 375).

In keeping with this, the central unit of analysis for practice-oriented approaches lies in the routine social practices produced by bodies, spaces and (organizational) artefacts. This makes it possible to understand "programme-related" interactions and associated daily organizational routines in different fields of practice as complex processes presenting themselves as a nexus of "doings and sayings" (Schatzki, 1996, p. 89), i.e. through body- and language-related activities.

In this sense, the phenomena of "programmes" in children's day-care centres are, from a practice-theory perspective, not so much to be understood as structurally complete units or rule systems, but are rather to be ascribed to repeatedly reconfigured scenes in which temporally and locally specific practices develop practices produced by individuals (cf. Nicolini, 2012). Here it is assumed that, despite the contingency of constantly changing situations, regularly recurring patterns of practice can be described. According to the fundamentals of practice theory, the knowledge of how something should be done in an organizationally structured field in order to "competently" implement a practice and take the appropriate next steps ("knowing how"), is also implicitly and therefore relatively durably inscribed into the bodies, things and texts involved (cf. Reckwitz, 2010; Schindler, 2011).

Approaches based on practice theory thus direct attention to aspects of concrete materiality, with which practice is collectively and meaningfully produced as an observable phenomenon. In this way, artefacts and specifically habitualized bodies can counteract the intended practice, condition it, or increase its momentum (cf. Hirschauer, 2004, p. 45). For example, lists, forms and other objects relevant to programmes always entail technical specifications, which can be understood as "irritative challenges requiring a response" (Reckwitz, 2003, p. 285). A perspective such as this seems especially productive for a comparison between cultures that are "foreign" to each other, as it means that phenomena of interest are not always linguistically prejudged--not least because of the researcher's limited linguistic abilities--and the interpretation of social reality can thus remain provisional "in the long term." This seems to be helpful for the identification of phenomena from a culturally comparative perspective, due to the diverse contexts which can potentially be taken into account. On the other hand, approaches based on practice theory make it clear that structure- or programme-related "realities" in everyday routines are also generated as part of the informal logics of practice and, associated with these, the implicit practical ways of knowing of the actors in the field (cf. Hillebrandt, 2009, pp. 385f.). The creation of a "programme" often does not proceed in the ideal-typical way which the teaching staff intend or (are able to) communicate by means of verbal information. Specific features of the history of organizations, time pressures, and the resulting logics of decision-making or informal agreements--in other words, a reciprocal relationship consisting of contextual factors on the ground and the habits of the professionals--mean that daily routines appear differently in their everyday realization than in the reflexive (self-)explanations of the participants in the field.

The presentation of a "programme" in the context of an institutional pedagogy of early childhood education and care involves two opposing aims: the implementation of processes of individuation on the one hand, and of processes of socialization on the other. In social service processes, the constitutive assumption is that the resulting tension should be balanced out as the situation demands, and dealt in accordance with the logics of the materialized and socially-based cultural dimensions. The question of a possible unilateral resolution of this tension must therefore necessarily be linked back to the cultural context, so that we can reconstruct and understand the practices observed in terms of the individuation or socialization which they provide within this context.

(3) Empirical approach: comparative ethnography

Ethnographic methods offer a suitable empirical approach to the analysis of "programme" as an object of research, and of the underlying social practices, their logics, modes and structural frameworks. Ethnography makes it possible to assess, in the field, the "shared reality" generated by practices (Cloos, Köngeter, Müller & Thole, 2009, p. 37). It allows the researcher to describe the practices of actors in their "natural environment," and thus to decipher, in detail, the logics inherent in a social situation, from the perspective of the field participants. A microanalytical description of interactions in the field defamiliarizes the seemingly familiar (cf. Amann & Hirschauer, 1997, p. 12), making it possible to capture the "silent dimension of the social" (Hirschauer, 2002, p. 40). Here the implicit knowledge of the field participants that is required for (professional) practices constitutes the "most important data" on which social science research is based (Honer, 2000, p. 197). This implicit knowledge, which is not available to the actors themselves and exists as an incorporated routine, in the mode of the "taken-for-granted" (cf. Amann & Hirschauer, 1997, p. 24), can be made explicit by means of participant observation. These observations require fairly long field visits.

One aim of the ethnographic design of the study is to achieve a vertical generalization by contrasting cases within a field: here certain everyday phenomena can be used to trace the contours of the field. Another aim is to produce a horizontal generalization by means of a relational approach. The purpose of this is to deconstruct the normative structure of the fields by means of a contrastive juxtaposition of cross-field phenomena and logic. This deconstruction seeks to define the outline of the logic of practice of a "programme." Comparative ethnography, in particular, offers opportunities to identify and compare different modes of practice (cf. Huf, 2013). Systematic comparison focuses on removing the concepts of "strange" and "familiar" from their immanence, and always considering any terrain one visits, in all its idiosyncrasies, "through the lens of another" (Huf & Friebertshäuser, 2012, p. 16).

To avoid the danger of subsuming the one under the other, then, the comparative perspective and the tertium comparationis should be continually (re)constructed, and regarded as hypothetical at all times (Huf, 2013). To this end (following Dinkelaker, Idel & Rabenstein, 2011), the main cognitive strategy will be an "inductive-reconstructive" one, aimed at the reconstruction of constitutive everyday phenomena. At the same time, however, the analysis will directly tackle the socio-political and highly normative assertions of difference between the fields, in order to avoid reproducing categories of difference and the imposition of norms. The idea is to achieve this with a conscious, "deductive-irritating" strategy (ibid., p. 257), which deliberately calls into question existing assumptions about field differences, or takes up a defamiliarizing position towards these. Particularly in the case of fields with the same structure, there is also a danger of sacrificing the "thick description" of the individual case to the systematization of comparative perspectives, which would mean losing sight of what cannot be compared (cf. Bollig & Kelle, 2012, p. 204). Yet it is precisely the identification of comparability and non-comparability that should emerge as the productive result of thick ethnography.

(4) Presentation of the findings

The analysis of several observation sequences from a Japanese children's day-care centre (hoikuen) can help to answer the question of how a "programme" in a children's day-care centre presents itself, in its logic of implementation, as social practice. Their collective production and their social contextuality make visible different practices for the creation of a "programme," which are implemented in the form of an intended and planned "section of everyday life." Another constitutive element is that the production of such a configuration entails the performance of specific actions, which ensure that the programme offered is established and maintained as a central, situationally appropriate context of action. The following analysis, based on observation in a Christian day-care centre in a large Japanese city, will show what logic of practices is used to produce this, and within which order these actions are constituted. The observation sequences presented here as examples come from a day-care facility in a large Japanese city for children aged 0 to 6. The children are divided by age cohort into a total of six groups. This ensures that only children of the same age are cared for together in a group. The "programme" sequence described below was observed in an almost identical manner several times.

Overall, the daily routine in the children's day-care facility observed is characterized by a high degree of structure. Within this framework, on the internal level of everyday life, as it were, rituals hold a special position, dividing everyday life into smaller units and framing the beginning and end of these units of meaning. This sequencing can be observed, for example, in the arrival situation between 8.00 and 9.15, and in the "programme" that follows.

Arrival: the children play freely, join in.

Today I'm in the three-year-olds' group. It's 8.30 in the morning, i.e. still in arrival time period until 9 o'clock. During this time the children are allowed to play, e.g. play board games at the table, sit at the table drawing, sit on the ground playing at something etc. New arrivals integrate into this situation, either by sitting down and joining children who are already playing at the table or on the floor, or getting something new out of the games cupboard and sitting down with it at the table or on the floor. The teachers are mainly busy with organizational matters during this time: looking through the children's parent-teacher notebooks, sorting out songbooks and music on the piano, arranging toys etc. A second complex of activities consists of occasionally sitting down at the table or on the floor at eye level with the children and being with them, sometimes proactively, sometimes reactively. At quarter to nine, a teacher plays a short piano sequence, to which they sing: "Okatazuke, okatazuke" ("The playing is over, the playing is over"). The children then tidy up the toys with the teaching staff, without any discernible resistance.

It becomes clear that the first part of the day, up to about 8.45, is marked by the arrival of the children, who slot into the everyday routine of the group, which is structured relatively openly and characterized by free play. This activity on the part of the children occurs regularly, and could be observed in this form every morning between 8.00 and 8.45 a.m. What is striking is that there is scarcely any need for the staff to explicitly produce this social order, for example by linguistic means (frequent admonitions, disciplining or raising their voices towards the children). Instead, the children's actions seem to be deeply inculcated by socialization: they seem to simply know what is now required of them and what they have to do.

Morning ritual: the anthem

Then, at exactly ten to nine, the centre's "anthem" is heard, in other words, the same song every day, played in all the group rooms from a central control via the speaker system. Quickly, a teacher stands up in the group room with arms stretched out and parallel to her body. The children also move quickly to position themselves in a kind of circle around her, and begin to sing the song with the teacher; both the teacher and the children make various rhythmic movements with their whole bodies, somewhat reminiscent of morning exercises: they crouch down, jump up and down, raise their arms.

Now, as the "anthem" is heard, the situation changes: a centrally played "anthem" triggers the regular morning gathering ritual. The teachers physically reinforce this ritual by performing the daily physical exercises in front of the children, and thus inviting them to do these exercises themselves. Thus this activity is firmly ritualized, i.e. it happens every day, and the children are familiar with it. Here the teacher plays a key role: she leads the dance, as it were, and the children imitate her physically. This leading of the dance does not serve solely to show the children how to do something. Instead it seems to reinforce the gathering ritual, to ensure the recognizability of the situation and the reproduction of the practices that belong to it, and thus to unite the children--who had up till then been playing loosely and individually--as a collective. At the same time, this helps to refresh or reaffirm the social order of the group. In other words, the leading of the exercises by the teacher is intended to ensure, in functional terms, that the children's physical practices remain within this framework, i.e. that all the children perform the same movements to the music, and that divergent behaviour is avoided by means of the resulting group pressure. In the event, no divergent behaviour was noted in any of the observations.

To summarize the observations so far, the collective "gymnastics" can be interpreted as a bridging ritual, constituting each individual child as a component of a group, and thus ensuring the transition to the first item to follow on the day's programme.

First item on the programme: piano with bear book

When the song is over, the children go to the tables and sit down on the chairs - without any obvious urging from the teaching staff. A teacher pulls a book (with a cartoon bear on the cover) out of the cupboard, stands in front of the children, who are sitting at their tables, turns the pages of the book and talks. The children call things out sporadically, probably saying what they can see. Now a teacher sits down at the piano and begins to play a song. The other teacher stands in front of the seated children, raises her eyebrows expectantly, and spreads her outstretched arms. Then the teacher at the piano begins to play again, and the teacher standing in front of the children begins to sing to the piano music, moving her arms into various positions: she touches her index finger to her nose, puts her hands on her hips, crouches down, jumps up, folds her arms etc. It is striking that the teacher, at the beginning of each song sequence, shortly before the words are supposed to start, says the first word of the sequence softly, as a sort of cue for the children, before actually singing it. The children's upper bodies face towards her, some of them join in the singing, and they try to physically reproduce what the teacher is doing in front of them. It gets a little noisier, with a few shouts from the children, but the children all remain seated on their chairs. After a short time, the piano music ends.

In this sequence, which can be interpreted as the first item on the programme, the sustained involvement of the teacher implementing this item makes it clear to everyone that she is responsible for the organization of this part of the programme. She gives thematic form to the piano music by looking at the book with the children, while the other teachers serve as co-constructors, providing a framework. Using prepared utensils, the leading teacher assumes the role of expert in the sequence, establishing this with various practices. For example, the hinted enunciation of the words before they are actually sung can be interpreted as one such practice: she uses this to signal to the children how the following song lyrics should be sung, thus ensuring that they sing the song "properly." Again, this is a practice that aims to secure the social order of the group and minimize options for alternative behaviour. At the same time, this structuring sets a framework within which the ritualized structure is produced and can be secured. It also avoids potential uncertainty among the other teachers involved, and the "risk" of processes of negotiation during the programme, possibly in front of the children. Overall, this reinforces the implementation of the regular ritual and gives it a fixed and lasting role in the children's group.

Second item on the programme: piano with cat book

The teacher who has been leading the gymnastics sits down with the children at a table, the pianist takes another book out of the cupboard (this time one about cats), stands in front of the children and speaks to them. The children fall silent. Miming the gesture of stroking a cat, and speaking in a soft voice, she seems to want to explain to the children that one mustn't be rough with cats, but must be careful with them and stroke them. She goes from table to table with the open book, showing a drawing of a cat, and, bending down slightly towards the children, invites each child to give the cat a stroke with their hand. Some of the children touch the cat with an outstretched index finger, others lay their whole hand on the cat etc. The teacher goes to each child sitting at the table, until all the children have "stroked" the cat once. This is followed by another short song, sung together as described above.

In this sequence from the second item on the programme, the logic of practices already hinted at in the previous part of the programme is continued. Again, the rule is that the performance of this item of the programme must go smoothly, without disruption, with the body of the teacher being deployed situationally to achieve this objective. The individual attention paid to each child by the teacher not only ensures the systematic implementation of this programme item, but also represents the element of the "person": firstly, this ensures the individual participation of the child in this performance, and secondly--indirectly--it draws the children's attention to the reproduction of the regulated structure. In addition, there are hints in this sequence of a specific educational communication of value-related ideas of social interaction, based on the example of the approved way to treat animals. This teaching mode simultaneously conceptualizes children as programme recipients and rejects the possibility of self-willed action on their part. The guiding organizational principle is, once again, to ensure the smooth implementation of the planned programme item.


After this short piece of piano music, the teachers and children put their hands together in prayer, close their eyes, and begin to pray together: at a moderate volume, with their heads bowed, they recite a spoken prayer. This seems to be very familiar to the children, as they are able to join in and speak the text without missing a word. The prayer ends with a slightly louder "Amen," then the teachers distribute milk to the children, who are still sitting quietly at the tables. To do so they carry a tray in their hands, containing cups already filled with milk. They go from table to table with this tray and place a cup in front of each child. The children leave the cups untouched in the middle of the table. When all the children have a cup in front of them, another piano piece is played, accompanied by a rather meditative-sounding song. When the piano music has finished, another prayer is spoken by the children and staff, without piano accompaniment. The prayer ends with a collective, loud "Amen."

Even more strongly than the previous sequence, this sequence documents the logic of the practice of collectively addressing the children. This is obviously also expressed in the nature of the observation: in the observation sequence, children are described as a homogeneous group, and there are certain expectations that they will make a collective contribution to the group. Even if a jointly spoken prayer, as a highly ritualized practice, is subject to strict regulative orders in the organizational context, and does not provide space for alternative actions, the highly conformist participation of the small children is nonetheless striking. In functional terms, then, the mimetic imitation of the prayer proves to be not only an opportunity for a caesura in the programme (in this case as a transition from singing to drinking), but also an instrument for practising social adaption, which plays a significant role in the cultural context of Japanese society. Seen in this way, processes of socialization seem to be more important overall than processes of individuation--as will become evident in the following sections.

Drink break

Quick as a flash, the children then reach for the cups standing in the middle of the table. Every child now drinks. Children who want more milk raise their cups to signal to the teacher that they'd like some more. Either the assistant or the teachers take a milk carton and refill the cups. After a short time, the teachers gather up the children's cups, while the children remain seated at the tables. After this, the trainee goes from table to table handing out moist cotton cloths, which the children use to wipe their mouths and hands. Some of the children spread out the little towels on the table in front of them, fold them, or lay them on their heads or over their faces. Interestingly, the children are not scolded or reprimanded for this apparently divergent behaviour. The teachers seem to tolerate this "controlled divergence." After a short time they go from child to child and check whether the children's mouths and hands are clean. How they have managed to get "clean," however, seems to be the responsibility of the children themselves. The children remain seated on their chairs throughout this whole sequence. After a short time the towels are collected by the teacher.

For this programme item as well, the children remain seated throughout. Again, this points to the collective addressing of the children as a group and, inscribed in this, the legitimation of the "proper" behaviour being invoked: if all the children are expected to do the same thing at the same time, behaviour by any one child that deviates from this is clearly visible to all the others. Alongside this social force binding the children to the table, the practice of filling the cups and distributing them ensures that the children remain seated on their chairs at the table. More participatory practices (if, for example, the children were to pour their own drinks or get up to wash their hands, etc.), would presumably endanger the organizational order and the social function of achieving conformity. Thus the organizational principle and reason behind the logic of this programme seems to be not so much the individual ("Western") child as the social ("Eastern") child. This suggests that the logic of this practice is functional and is aimed at achieving social and cultural conformity *2. This reading is possibly contradicted by the interpretation offered in the observation report: the suggestion that the children themselves are responsible--at least to start off with--for cleaning themselves after the meal with the cloth provided. On the other hand, it is the teachers who ultimately ensure that all the children are "cleaned" after drinking.

Transitional song: preparation for book work

One of the teachers then stands in front of the children, spreads her arms out in front of her, and claps her hands. The children fall silent and physically focus their attention on the teacher standing before them, turning their heads and bodies towards her. This is followed by a short, collectively sung song, with segments of clapping by the teacher, which the children imitate. In the meantime, another teacher picks up a pen and paper and records which children are present, pointing to the children as she counts.

This observation sequence, describing a song performed jointly by the children and teaching staff, with physical clapping segments, can be read as a further bridging ritual, focused on an activity which is to follow. As well as this function, the practice implemented here is linked with an organizational necessity: checking which children are present. The song reaffirms the collective addressing of the children, and focuses the attention of the children as a group on the teacher. This implicitly announces a subsequent activity that will draw the children's attention to the teacher responsible for the programme.

Book work and farewell

After this the teacher who has just sung the song brings out a plastic box containing the children's calendar books. The children are still all sitting at the table. Occasionally an assistant gets them to sit "properly" again, i.e. with their chair facing in the right direction, their bodies facing towards the table or the teacher who is speaking to them etc. A teacher then opens a book, points to the day of the week (Friday) and briefly says something to the children. She now lowers her voice and speaks to the children in a whisper, upon which the group becomes completely quiet. She now hands each child his or her book, reading out the name of the child the book belongs to. The child in question calls out "Hai" (Yes), and the teacher takes the book to the child's table and hands it to him or her. For each child, the teacher opens the book at a particular page. Eventually, all the children have their books lying in front of them, all open at the same page. Then this teacher and other teachers go to the children's tables and hold stickers with animal symbols up in front of their faces. Each child is now allowed to stick an animal sticker onto today's day of the week. The teacher at the table holds the list of stickers out to the child, points to the brown bear, then the child takes the brown bear off the sticker sheet and is supposed to stick it into the book at the place shown: today, the Friday page in the calendar. After a short time, the books are gathered in again and put back in the yellow plastic box. A teacher takes the box and puts it aside. Finally, an assistant begins to distribute the children's yellow caps for their "yard time": the children now get up from their seats, for the first time in over half an hour, and pull their hats onto their heads--with the teachers occasionally straightening caps that are askew or haven't been put on "properly." After a short farewell ritual, the children leave the group room and go through the corridor and out to the centre's free play area.

This observation sequence shows, in a cumulative manner, the logic of practice of the "programme" presented, in which the teacher-led and product-producing practices address the children as a collective, and conceptualize them as objects of scholastic instruction. A regular feature here is the production of phenomena that aim to instruct and to secure the organization. The sequence described above is a good example of this. What becomes apparent here is that the teachers take the initiative when it comes to children's reception of subject matter to be learnt (confirmation by the children of their own names), that organizational structures are secured by artefact-based and social sanctioning (adjusting the way the children are facing on their seats), and that the teachers produce programme components while simultaneously ensuring co-production by the children (sticking stickers into a book). Thus the practices described here for the creation of a "programme" suggest that the demands of life in school and society are being anticipated, while childish or participatory initiatives seem to be given barely any space. This programme, which is repeated in a comparable form every day, seems to be reserved for the production of socially relevant artefacts, behaviours and rituals. In contrast, alternative (childish) practices that are contrary to this function are rejected and implicitly sanctioned (e.g. child-initiated disruption of the proceeding by opening alternative play scenes). The desired practices, those that are conducive to the functions described, are reaffirmed wherever possible by the exemplary actions of the teachers; this makes these practices visible and reminds the children of them. However, it should be mentioned that after the end of the programme, during the "children's free play" in the outdoor area of the facility, the focus is on more child-led, open-ended practices, i.e. those that do not aim to produce a product. The role of the teacher shifts here to that of a supporting assistant, following the children's initiatives. This is not meant to be a contrast, in the sense that the "pleasurable free play" constitutes a refreshing counterpart to the lesson-like programme. The point is, rather, that the overall aim is to socialize the children into socially relevant systems, i.e. to teach the children to take responsibility for others and for the things in their environment. This aim seems to be very much in accordance with the social norms and values relevant to public life in Japan (cf. footnote 2).

(5) Summary

Looking at the sum total of the successive "programme" items in the course of a morning, it is possible to hypothesise that this is about creating a very specific social order. While the establishment of order plays an important role in all children's day-care facilities, the purpose here does not seem to be solely to establish order so as to safeguard organizational processes. Rather, the specific social order--identified here as the logic of practice of collectively addressing the children as programme recipients--helps to promote socialization in a very specific direction. This kind of educational reality confronts children with socially and culturally relevant positions: the high degree of ritualization in the structure of everyday life means that the children are addressed as members of a society which functions in terms of various social and cultural values and rules.

The aim is to conform to these rules, to absorb them, mimetically reproduce them, respond to them and be integrated into them.

The function associated with this allows children to be slotted into social dimensions of expectation by referring to society's mechanisms of socialization in the mode of highly ritualized practice. The addressing of the children as a group is thus used as an instrument for rehearsing social conformity, which plays an important role in Japanese society. At the same time--as has been shown multiple times in the empirical material--the utilization of the children as co-producers of the programme's enactment ensures the individual involvement of the children in this performance. Overall, however, the practices described here for the creation of a "programme" suggest that the requirements of life in school and society are being anticipated, while childish or participatory initiatives appear to be given little space. In summary, it seems that the programme-producing practices observed here play a functional role in the context of Japanese society.

(6) Discussion and comparative perspectives

This short presentation of several observation sequences from field visits to a Japanese children's day-care centre aimed to offer an example of the methodology and possibilities of an approach based on practice theory. For a subject-related comparison with the creation of a "programme" in German children's day-care centres, cultural and social differences in the fields have to be taken into account--as will already have become clear. Against this background, it can be observed that processes of education in German children's day-care centres require more balance between the poles of individuation (as pedagogical practices focused on the individual needs of each child), and socialization (as pedagogical practices focused on the collective expectations of society). This basic dialectical figure of pedagogy, which calls into question linear ideas of education as the transmission of knowledge and skills, and emphasizes the open-ended, difficult-to-plan, processual character of pedagogical endeavour, makes it much more difficult to evaluate observed practices in the context of the pedagogical as functional: after all, this would require the concrete formulation of a content-related objective, i.e. a normative premise of where educative practices should lead to. If, however, the relationship between the personal and social development of children is undefined in terms of concrete objectives, as is the case due to the socio-historical context of German children's day-care centres, this relationship can only ever be investigated on a situational basis.

A comparison between the fields visited in Japanese and German children's day-care centres must take into account such contexts--hence a comparison can only be hinted at here. The analyses produced so far by the German research project "Profile der Kindertagesbetreuung" ("Profiles of Children's Day Care") have found a wide range of programme-producing practices, on a continuum between "logic of implementation of the centre's prescribed rules," and "decision-making freedom of the child as a yardstick." Given the deep historical and social roots of the dialectic of pedagogy in Germany, even such a broad continuum can be described as functional.

Further analyses and findings from this internationally comparative perspective will be published from 2017 onwards.

  • *1 This visit took place as part of the project "Day care provisions for under-threes in a time of the universal ECCE; Trend and Issues of the Family Day Care in Germany, England and Japan," funded by the Japanese Society for Promoting Sciences (JSPS project number: 26381096 Project leader: Mikiko TABU, Seitoku University).
  • *2 For historical reasons Japanese society is, in contrast to Western society, much more strongly characterized by social pressure to conform, which is present throughout nearly all areas of social life. Important areas here are, for example, the individual's focus on a collective, the expectation that rituals will be reproduced, or the imitation and practising of culturally relevant and socially desirable manners and behaviours.


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Prof. Dr. Gabriel Schoyerer, Dipl. Paed.
Professor at the Catholic University of Applied Sciences, Munich, Department of Social Work focusing on childhood education. Senior Researcher at the German Youth Institute e.V., Munich, Department Children and Child Care.
Fellow and scholarship holder of the Japan Society for Promoting Sciences (JSPS); Research topic: Ethnographic Studies in Japanese and German Day Care for Children with field stays in Japan between 2014 and 2016.
Focus in teaching and research: Childhood education and profession, education and training in child day care, childhood and family in social change, ethnographic research and reconstructive methods.