Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


University of Wollongong. Faculty of Education


This study explored how structures and relationships in schools constrain and/or enable a small group of children to exercise agency. There appears a disjuncture between traditional education systems and modern students‟ knowledge and experiences in society. Part of this widening schism is explained sociologically by the differences in perceptions of childhood between the dominant framework, informed by developmental psychology, and the new sociology of childhood. This study explored both perspectives with critical social theory providing the theoretical and analytical framework for designing the research and analysing the data.

Using a model of Participatory Action Research this study engaged with nine, ten - fourteen year old children from the Illawarra Region in a project that investigated children‟s place and power within their schools. As co-researchers, the young people in collaboration with the researcher devised and distributed two surveys for adults and children to compare adults ‟perceptions with children‟s experiences of schools. In teams the co-researchers analysed the data and presented their interpretation of the data in short skits they wrote, filmed and editedfor a DVD. Additionally, the co-researchers provided rich qualitative data on their lives through interviews, taking photographs and journal writing. As a critical ethnographer, I documented and commented on the process of conducting authentic research and sharing power with children.

This study was designed on Gramsci's notion of hegemony (1971, 1977) as a way to explain children‟s mostly active consent to the processes in schools that ultimately subjugate them. Findings indicated that the strength of hegemony was in the normalcy of adults' accepted authority to make decisions and define rules, allocation of space and children‟s learning in schools. Conversely, results also suggested that hegemony was not absolute as the core searchers questioned the status quo in schools and in doing so redeveloped their idea of„normal‟. Data reflected that children wanted ideal schools to focus on learning rather than indoctrination with spaces for children's voices and identities to be respected where children and adults share power democratically.