Narratives from the nursery: negotiating a 'professional' identity

Osgood, Jayne (2008) Narratives from the nursery: negotiating a 'professional' identity. Doctoral thesis, London Metropolitan University.


In this thesis I argue that the professional identities of nursery workers are politically and socially constructed. The nursery workers' constructions of childhood; motherhood/mothering; policy reform; and professionalism are explored to offer insights into the ways in which various discourses intersect and are drawn upon to privilege particular understandings of the 'early years professional'. Further, through this study I aimed to unearth the ways in which classed, 'raced' and gendered subjectivities intersect with notions of professionalism in nursery work. This thesis is intended to contribute to a critical understanding of the ways in which identities are discursively produced and to suggest how a range of actors working in the field of Early Childhood Education and Care (ECEC) might contribute to challenging narrowly prescriptive constructions of professionalism. This thesis contributes to debates that stem from a recognition, and problematisation, of the gendered and classed nature of ECEC. By critically scrutinising previous research it is argued that a gap exists in the literature where subjective experience through autobiographical accounts can be related to professional practice. It is argued that much research neglects the subjective experiences of the nursery worker and in doing so normalised constructions (of the child and working with children) become reinforced to produce a narrowly defined form of professionalism. In adopting a critical post-structuralist feminist approach, I draw upon a range of theorists (most notably Foucault) to illustrate the power of discourse and the discursive construction of professional identity and its effects. The study examined the subjective identities and experiences of 24 nursery workers through a range of qualitative methods: narrative life history interviews, semistructured interviews, focus group discussions and observational work. The research was undertaken in three nurseries (private, voluntary and state run) in central London. The nursery workers interviewed occupied various positions within the nursery (from manager, to senior practitioner through to trainees) and held varying degrees of experience. The sample included a disparate mix in terms of ethnicity and age, however in terms of gender the sample reflected the broader composition of the workforce, with only one male participant included in the study. In order to contextualise the study and expose authoritative discourses around professionalism in Narratives from the Nursery: Osgood Thesis ECEC interviews were also undertaken with a range of key stakeholders. Interviews were carried out with representatives from the case study Local Authority; the Sure Start Unit; the Children's Workforce Development Council; the National Day Nurseries Association; and the Daycare Trust. A selection of key policy documents was subjected to critical analysis to further explore the construction of professionalism through authoritative discourses. The thesis argues that the professional identities of nursery workers are discursively constructed. I argue for alternative constructions that recognise the 'early years professional' as a classed, gendered and 'raced' subject. I conclude by arguing for the promotion of the 'critically reflexive emotional professional' in place of the 'competent technician'.

508362.pdf - Published Version

Download (25MB) | Preview


Downloads per month over past year

Downloads each year

View Item View Item