Dissertation Abstracts

“Value-added fun”: Constructing childhood at the Israeli Children’s Museum in Holon

Author: Hadas Nezer Dagan, hadasnd@gmail.com
Department: Department of Leadership and Policy in Education
University: University of Haifa , Israel
Supervisor: Prof. Tamar Katriel, Dr. Deborah Golden
Year of completion: 2017
Language of dissertation: Hebrew

Keywords: childhood , spatiality , agency , time
Areas of Research: Childhood , Body in the Social Sciences , Language and Society


The study is an ethnography of the Israeli Children's Museum in Holon. It is based on the research tradition of the new paradigm of childhood studies which views childhood as a social construction – that is, the composite of perspectives, understandings, regulations and institutions that serve to organize children’s lives and the thinking about them. The study discusses the construction of childhood at the museum, as a case study of a designated setting in which organized activities are held for children. The ethnography analyzes the ways in which childhood (and adulthood) are constructed through the museum exhibitions, the educational activities during the tours, and the interactions between adults and children, as well as museum staff and visitors. The study focuses mainly on adults' construction of the museum as a beneficial space for children. However, it also notes children's patterns of action and interaction, listening for their voice as they engage in museum-sponsored activities. Data collected from fieldwork portrays the museum as a social arena that is characterized by careful management of children’s actions: their bodies, their movements within the museum, and their emotions and thoughts. Such management is accomplished through the adults’ interaction with the children and takes place through speech acts that lie at the heart of the organizational activity and are anchored in pedagogic discourse regarding children’s best interests, and the adults’ responsibility for realizing these. This discourse is based on viewing childhood as a process of development, both physical and mental which, while natural and universal, also requires adult intervention, management, and monitoring to ensure its realization. The ethnographic gaze focuses on the discourse regarding ‘proper’ childhood that underpins the pedagogical and administrative practices used for managing the museum setting, the experience of visiting it, and the interactions taking place therein. This discourse constructs forms of action and identities at the scene. These are anchored in the culture and lifestyles of the middle class and its characteristic child-rearing patterns, as part of the city of Holon's process of renewal by branding it as the "Children's city". Established as a 'flagship' of this process, the museum serves as a form of cultural entrepreneurship aimed at attracting middle class populations to the city. The study offers an understanding of a space for organized activities for children as a symbolic lifestyle space in which children's actions and experiences are constructed within the structural context of an intergenerational order, which functions as a field of power relations in which children and adults have different access to resources of influence and autonomy. From this perspective adults' and children's agency is viewed as more complex than the dichotomous gaze that distinguishes between activity and passivity, autonomy and subordination, continuity and change.

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