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"We're all friends here" : children in a Northern Irish playgroup constructing gender and friendship

University Of Oslo
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  • Vdp:250


Being a child is not always easy. For children in Northern Ireland the hardship of growing up is made worse by the presence of armed conflict. Even for children who do not live in the midst of struggle, the conflict has repercussions for ideas they form about life in general. Everyday concerns for the children presented in this thesis are many and varied, but I focus on two major fields: Gender and friendship. One way or another children have to relate to these themes in their life. They meet with expectations in regards to their gender, and react to these in different ways. They are expected to make friends among other children, and success or failure in gaining friends may have repercussions for identity management as well as ideas formed about friendship. I show how children actively take part in the creation of gendered identities. In conversation and play, ideas about gender are both maintained and challenged according to the situation and the personality of the participants. Gender is made paramount at certain times and irrelevant at others. When gender is enacted the children add to their ideas about the importance of their gendered identities. Some children often challenge stereotypic ideas about boys and girls; others will work to demarcate the boundaries. Friendships in childhood are important in the shaping of identity, but not all children have equal access to forming friendships. In the last part of the thesis I discuss the processes that come into play when children choose and refuse friends. Some children have a lot of power when it comes to deciding 'who gets to play', and, conversely, the child who is repeatedly refused access to the play suffers not only the pains of rejection, but may also, in extreme cases, form adverse ideas of what friendship entails.

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