Selecting a preschool: A discursive-affective analysis of parental choice in South Australia

Author: Valentina Bertotti

  • Thesis download: available for open access on 19 Apr 2024.

Bertotti, Valentina, 2022 Selecting a preschool: A discursive-affective analysis of parental choice in South Australia, Flinders University, College of Education, Psychology and Social Work

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This thesis is a qualitative investigation of parental choice-making in South Australia’s preschool education sector. ‘Choice’ is a keystone of neoliberal education reforms. While much research has focused on the consequences of neoliberal reforms in childcare and in the higher sectors of education, insufficient attention has been paid to how marketisation is ‘creeping’ into preschool education. With dominant neoliberal discourses promoting the notion that choosing the ‘right’ early learning pathway is critical for a child’s future success and stressing the moral duty of parent-consumers to facilitate and promote ‘early brain development’, the preschool sector is especially important given its situatedness in the ‘year before school’. These dynamics make preschool a fertile ground for neoliberal discourses of choice, school readiness and life-long learning.

By exploring how South Australian parents/caregivers of pre-schoolers are influenced to make choices, the thesis explores the social construction of choice in which parents are differentially located, and the classed and gendered inequalities assumed in choice discourses. Research has shown that not only the responsibility to choose, falls almost exclusively to women but the power to do so falls to middle-class women. By bringing a class and gender lens to the discussion, the thesis considers the social consequences of a preschool market in which only some mothers are structurally ‘able to choose’.

Informed by feminist poststructuralism and bringing together the concepts of discourse and affect, the research specifically explores how the identities of mothers as ‘consumers of education’ are constructed and reproduced through social and cultural discourses, whilst also investigating how mothers are agents of choice. Neoliberal discourses of choice work through advertising regimes for early education, thus the research draws on a combination of qualitative methods for the collection of materials, and uses affective, discursive and semiotic analysis for their interpretation. By interpreting preschool choice as an ‘affective environment’, and using discursive-affective tools for analysis, the research generates new insights into how parents/caregivers are ‘moved and influenced’ as education decision-makers. By viewing affect not as individually located, but rather as a force or wave that moves through the parental body, the thesis examines the relationship between discursive subjectivities, social practices, power relations, and the gendered implications of choice. The study argues that discourses of neoliberalism favour some mothers, whilst taking choice away from others. It provides a critical contribution to the field by offering a language for describing what is being ‘done to’ and ‘by whom’ in the name of ‘quality’ preschool education, highlighting a social justice issue that demands public attention.

Keywords: parental choice, early chidlhood education, neoliberalism, marketisation, preschool, affect, discourses, paremt-consumers

Subject: Education thesis

Thesis type: Doctor of Philosophy
Completed: 2022
School: College of Education, Psychology and Social Work
Supervisor: Ben Wadham