Contemporary Perspectives on Preschools and Society

5th March 2019 in Bertil Hammer Hall, Blåsenhus, von Kraemers Allé 1, 752 37 Uppsala

This conference was organised by the research project “The First Choice: The Expansion of Preschool, its Marketization and Increased Importance for Families’ Educational Strategies” (, which is funded by the Swedish Research Council.

09:15 Welcome
Prof. Esbjörn Larsson
(Vice Dean at the Faculty of Educational Sciences, Uppsala University)

09:30 ‘Doing Family’ in Day Care: Mapping the Complexities of Family/Day Care-Relations in a Practice-Analytical Perspective
Prof. Dr. Sabine Bollig (Sozialpädagogik II, Universität Trier)

Parent-teacher partnerships have become established standards in improving the quality of early childhood education and care (ECEC). Hence, it is still easy to sum up research on this partnerships, especially from a critical stance. There are indeed studies on the ambiguities of partnership discourses, the struggling of parents and professionals in enacting those partnerships and that its promises – to enhance children’s well-being and learning and compensate for social inequalities – are not only hard to reach. Instead, it seems that inequality is also very much reproduced along practicing those ‘partnerships’.

I will argue, that those struggles and pitfalls are not only due to asymmetric positions/expectations and the challenging new positioning of parents and professionals within the social investment paradigm, but also to the complex nature of family and day care relations. As common concepts of partnerships focus merely on trustful, encouraging and respectful interactions between educators and parents, respective research follows very much this zooming on adult interaction and discourses. Thus, there are three issues not much addressed yet: first, that those partnerships are embedded in a multiply of representations of ‘family’ within ECEC organizations according to the multiple family-related functions of ECEC; second, that those multiple representations of families and family-day-care relations are simultaneously present within the complex socio-material web of practices which constitute ECEC organizations and not just within the actual events of ‘partnering’; and third, that children are very much part of producing those practical representations of family and relation-/partnerships.

To address this aspects analytically I’ll draw on the concept of ‘doing family’, which highlights that families are no longer to understand as predefined entities, but as a practical accomplishment, which include a manifold of ‘displaying family’. I will show how expanding this family-sociological concept towards the family’s interrelatedness with ECEC could help to shed light on the complexities of this everyday practiced family-day-care relations. Children play a crucial role here, because they are the exclusive group who share the everyday lives of the families and the day care and, therefore, find themselves in several subject-positions along those ‘doings of family’ within ECEC. On the backdrop of two ethnographic research projects (CHILD 2013-2015, PARTNER 2019-2021) I will present the conceptual framework and preliminary ethnographic mappings of the multiply of ‘doing family’ in day care.

10:00 Training Early Childhood Professionals in Sweden and Switzerland: Policies, Actor Constellations, Path Dependencies
Dr. Michael Geiss (Education and Work, Universität Zürich)
& Prof. Johannes Westberg (School of Humanities, Education and Social Sciences, Örebro University)

In European countries, early childhood professionals are trained in a wide variety of ways. This article sheds light on these variations by examining the evolution of skill formation systems for early childhood professionals in two resource-rich Western countries in the global north with similar pedagogical practices: Switzerland and Sweden. These countries stand for two very different training regimes in the field of early childhood education and care (ECEC). While the preschool professionals (that is, preschool core practitioners) in Sweden today is trained at universities, in Switzerland a workplace-based form of vocational education and training at a secondary level is the standard way to qualify childcare staff for younger children. Depending on the region, however, there have also been school-based solutions, which today are positioned on a tertiary level.

Using a path dependency approach, this article attempts at explaining these differences by examining how these different solutions developed historically. The different developments for the crèches and daycare centre as well as the reforms in the kindergarten sector are taken into account. For Switzerland, it should also be kept in mind that cantonal developments vary greatly and that language regions play an important role.

In historical institutionalism, the reconstruction of different training regimes is a common subject. In methodological terms, this approach means identifying important critical junctures where national developments have taken a certain path. Unlike the literature on historical institutionalism, however, we do not examine the development of entire national educational systems, but concentrate on the forms in one field. We thus focus on dominant corporate actors and interest groups that have advocated a certain form of education in the field of early childhood education and care. We ask by what means these actors tried to achieve their goals, how private organisations, professional organizations, municipalities and central governments were involved, and what role laws and regulations played. The most important contexts these actors had to deal with were, first, institutional developments, i.e. the expansion of childcare centres or preschools. Secondly, we take account of developments on the labour market and the labour market policy demands that have accompanied this expansion. The main concern here was to increase the participation of women in the labour market. A third central context are the public demands on the central actors in the field, such as media reports, scandals, etc. These should also be taken into account where possible, since they determine the discursive field in which developments take place.

10:30 FIKA

11:00 A Desire for Transparency and Control: The Swedish Preschool Choice as Part of Culturally Wealthy Families’ Educational Strategies in Uppsala
Associate Prof. Ida Lidegran & Prof. Esbjörn Larsson (Department of Education, Uppsala University)

Today, many Swedish families make their first educational choice before their child is one year old. If they do not actively make a choice their children are not offered any childcare. Thus, all families who need childcare must make an education-related choice very early in the children's lives, long before the child can have an opinion on the issue. This can also be understood in terms of a first engagement with a preschool market on which parents have to make active choices.

The purpose of this presentation is to discuss results from an ongoing investigation on the role of preschools for families’ educational strategies. Drawing on statistical material as well as qualitative interviews, we can show that not-for-profit preschools run by parents are mainly preferred by families with a lot of cultural capital. These parents put a lot of thought into the choice of preschool for their children.

The thing that seems most attractive with preschools run by parents is that this form of childcare gives the culturally wealthy parents an opportunity to oversee and influence the childcare activities. This desire can also be linked to the fact that preschools run by parents often are small-scaled, which creates a family atmosphere that is often something that these parents find especially positive.

A crucial point for understanding the position of preschools run by parents on the preschool market is that they often requires a significant work effort from the parents, from cleaning to managing the preschool's finances and hiring new staff. The prerequisite for this is that the parents have the right skills as well as flexible jobs that make it possible for them to spend time on managing the preschool.

11:30 Towards New Infrastructures on Public Services: Collecting Comparative Indicators on Early Childhood Education and Care
PhD Student Sebastian Sirén & PhD Student Laure Doctrinal (Swedish Institute for Social Research, Stockholm University. Non-presenting co-researcher PhD Rense Nieuwenhuis, Swedish Institute for Social Research, Stockholm University)

This presentation provides an overview of a part of a research project entitled “Towards new infrastructures on public services”, which has the purpose of setting set up a new framework for collecting good quality institutional comparative data on early child education and care (ECEC), by harmonising already available sources as well as through the execution of an expert survey, This work is carried out at the Swedish Institute for Social Research (SOFI), as a task within the InGRID-2 framework.

Although increasingly emphasised in the political discourse of international organisations, as well as by national governments, and despite the scholarly efforts made over the last decades in analysing the role of childcare services, a coherent research infrastructure with institutional indicators on ECEC policies has not yet been established. As revealed by a review of the existing literature, there is a clear need to improve comparability of existing indicators at the same time as the conceptual framework needs further elaboration in order to improve our understanding of causes and consequences of cross-country differences in this field.

While there seems to be widespread consensus that ideal policies on ECEC ensure that the services are available, affordable, and of good quality (Gambaro, Stewart & Waldfogel, 2015), the relative scarcity of comparative indicators has made the situation regarding each of these dimensions difficult to assess. Tellingly, much of the comparative literature has been using welfare state typologies, enrolment rates or public expenditure on ECEC, particularly when it comes to examining differences across a large number of countries or a longer period of time.

Better availability of comparative indicators should facilitate further advancements in our understandings of the causes and consequences of cross-country and temporal variations with regard to the institutional characteristics of ECEC policies. In particular, these new indicators may contribute towards our ability to identify the causes of divergence with respect to the availability, affordability and quality in national policies on ECEC, as well as the specific policy design features that promote high take-up rates, among parents with divergent socio-economic backgrounds (cf. Korpi, Ferrarini & Englund, 2013). More refined data might also shed light on the extent to which outcomes of ECEC policies are the result of interactions between these and other policies. Accordingly, once established, the envisioned research infrastructure project aims to contribute significantly towards this research agenda.

12:00                 LUNCH

13:00 The Child as a Voucher? The Marketization of the Swedish Preschools
Prof. Johannes Westberg (School of Humanities, Education and Social Sciences, Örebro University) & Prof. Esbjörn Larsson (Department of Education, Uppsala University)

Swedish early childhood education has gone through a tremendous expansion since the 1970s. This massive expansion coincided with some significant changes in how early childhood education was conducted. Apart from a “schoolification” of the content in Swedish early childhood education (from primarily being a kind of day-care into more of a preschool education) the sphere of early childhood education also went through a significant change in how preschools were organized and funded. The latter process can be described as a marketization of Swedish preschools, which is one of the main focuses of the research project “The First Choice: The Expansion of Preschool, its Marketization and Increased Importance for Families’ Educational Strategies”.

In this presentation we will examine the emergence of the conditions for a Swedish preschool market by analyzing three different political decisions in the 1980s, 1990s and the 2000s, which included a ban on profit-making preschools (1984), a waiver of the ban (1991), and the introduction of a kind of childcare voucher that allows Swedish parents to freely choose preschool for their children (2009). The study is based mainly on analyzes of parliamentary debates, but it also makes use of the extensive newspaper debate in connection with the decisions in parliament.

Our presentation will focus on how the nature of preschool children and their education was discussed in these debates. Our presentation will be guided by the hypothesis that the marketization of the preschool sector also implied changing visions of children and their education, whereby children were portrayed as rational agents responding to their environment, and as economic resources that enables an efficient resource distribution of the Swedish government’s resources.

13:30 The Second Wave of (International) Preschool Development 1970-1998:  Implications for a Swedish Preschool Politics for Inclusion
Prof. Anne-Li Lindgren (Department of Child and Youth StudiesStockholm University)

In this presentation I discuss the different ways a Swedish preschool politic has been part of international trends and developments, including the Swedish membership in EU. This includes ideas that preschool provides the solution for societal problems. This is true for the early as well as the late 19hundreds. However, differences (and similarities) appear when taking into account what problems that should be solved, and the stakeholders engaged in the processes; for example entrepreneurs, private corporates, municipalities and the state. Differences (and similarities) also appear when taking into account what activities children ideally should perform in preschool, for example if they ought to play or learn, and if so, what to play and what to learn. In the presentation I relate these trends to how preschool have promoted and transformed notions of childhood translated into society.

14:00 ”A Preschool without Borders”: The ‘International’ as a Preschool Profile
PhD Student Jennifer Waddling (Department of Education, Uppsala University)

Since the 1990s, independent actors have been authorised to provide preschool provision. This, along with free-choice policies, has meant that the sector has diversified and evolved into a market-like space where preschools compete for the enrolment of families and their attached funding. Within this competition, the use of profiles to promote provision has become commonplace. Among which, there has been a growth in the number of preschools with ‘international’ profiles. Some, such as International Future Preschool and Harmony International Preschool, title themselves as international. Others market themselves as being a “preschool without borders” or fostering children to be “global citizens”. There are also preschools offering an introduction to a foreign language or full bilingual provision, most commonly Swedish and English. Further to this, there are those who profile their provision as resembling another country’s care and education. In Stockholm, examples of this are French, German, Spanish and Greek profiles. As well as offering languages, these preschools frequently state they provide cultural experiences through the celebration of their nation’s festivals. In common with all these types of ‘international’ preschools is their claim to offer something different and distinct from typical Swedish preschools, whether this is languages or international dispositions.

Within this study, I present an analysis of international preschools’ websites. Differences in how these settings construct ‘the international’ are illustrated, which in turn is related to the families that they target. Further to this, the distribution of these preschools within the Stockholm area is presented, shedding light on links between the demographic position of preschools, their construction of the ‘international’, and the families they compete for.

14:30                 FIKA

15:00 Children with Autism Spectrum Disorders in Community based Early Childhood Education in Sweden; Case study of Early and Intensive Behavioral Intervention
PhD Ingrid Olsson (Department of Education, Uppsala University. Non-presenting co-researchers: Lise Roll-Pettersson, Department of Special Education, Stockholm University, Sweden, and Shahla Ala'i-Rosales, Department of Behavior Analysis, University of North Texas, United States)

In the present research, we aim to provide a deeper understanding of proximal and distal barriers and supports concerning how multi-professional services and families can be able to work collaboratively with young children with Autism Spectrum Disorders in Swedish community based regular preschools. Previous research suggests that early and intensive behavioral interventions can contribute to progress in learning for pre-school children with Autism Spectrum Disorder. However, there are many barriers as well as supports when interventions are translated into preschool practice. In this research, we used implementation theory with a focus on “what”, “how”, and “where” to problematize and gain a deeper understanding of factors that may influence implementation. A small-scale qualitative case study approach was used with roots in ethnography. Interview transcripts and field notes were analyzed using an abductive grounded theory approach. The chosen preschools (two) exemplified “high quality practice” concerning early and intensive behavioral intervention. During a 12 months period, information was collected through several sources, including participant- and direct observations, focus group interview, and semi-structured interviews with the parents and with key professionals. The findings contribute with an understanding of supports and barriers for implementing interventions in preschool. Based on the present findings, we discuss how the preschools work with children with Autism Spectrum Disorder and how multi-professional services and families can be able to work collaboratively. We problematize the role of the preschool administrators, staff competence, education, supervision, and inter-organizational tensions and bridges. A model of factors affecting implementation of early and intensive behavioral intervention in pre-school will also be presented.

15:30 The Social Space of Swedish Preschools: A Bourdieusian Analysis of Families’ Preschool Enrolment in a Marketised Welfare State
PhD Håkan Forsberg & PhD Student Jennifer Waddling (Department of Education, Uppsala University)

Swedish preschool provision has grown exponentially since the 1970s to become a welfare-service that 95 percent of all 4-5 year olds attend. Since the 1990s, independent actors have been authorised to establish preschools. This has facilitated the development of local preschool markets, where families are able to ‘choose’ between settings. In this paper, we present work in progress in an ongoing investigation of families’ educational strategies regarding preschool enrolment.

Drawing on Bourdieu’s concepts of field, capital and strategy, we analyse how the composition and distribution of capital among parents relates to the character of the preschool within which they enrol. The analysis is based on individual register data from Statistics Sweden on all families in Sweden for the year 2016. This comprises of information on approximately 500 000 children. We use specific multiple correspondence analysis (specific MCA) to analyse the differences between these children (using their parents’ education, income, occupation, and national origin), the preschools’ socio-economical and pedagogical characteristics (such as social recruitment, and teacher composition regarding their social background), and the composition of providers in the preschool market.

Preliminary results from the analysis of the Swedish social space of preschools indicates an overarching structure of enrolment that is related to, on the one hand, the distribution and composition of families’ capital, and on the other hand, the demographic, geographic, socio-economic and business-orientated conditions that frames the providers place in the market. Hence, local preschool markets’ offers are socio-economically and ethnically stratified, allowing families to strategize for their children’s care/education and social context.

16:00 Concluding remarks and discussion
Prof. Johannes Westberg (School of Humanities, Education and Social Sciences, Örebro University)

Last modified: 2022-03-10