Aalborg university, Denmark
Thesis: What Has Changed in Drama? – Preschool Children’s Social and Cultural Development
Research supervisor: Luca Tateo, PhD, Associate Professor

This PhD project is divided into two parts: 1) investigating and comparing the social and cultural development of underperformed preschool children and the prevailing social construction of values and practices towards preschool children’s development in the settings of Chinese and Danish family and kindergarten. 2) exploring the potential of drama in education in promoting underperformed preschool children’s social and cultural development. For me, besides the definition of social and cultural development, the most interesting and at the same time most difficult question in this project is how to launch a powerful dramatic world to enable children’s development and how to approach and analyze this phenomenological world.

This world consists of a dynamic and complex relationship between the children and the various drama devices. As a kind of artistic work, it has multi-faceted existences: as materials (props and objects), forms (structures and paces) and themes (themes and contents). It can be approached from an objective aspect, e.g. the emphasis on the cultural and symbolic resources or the inherent structure of the activity. It can also be dealt with from a subjective perspective, with the concept of ‘perezhivaniya’ as an example. Thus, it becomes crucial for this project to explore an unit of analysis to integrate the two perspectives both theoretically and methodologically.

I went back to Karl Marx’s historical materialism for inspiration. In Marx’s philosophy, this potential dualism is overcome by the concept of “sensuous consciousness”. “Sensuous consciousness” is a consciousness that is interweaved with individuals’ real life process (in accordance to the concept of ‘activity’ in cultural and historical psychology), which means that it cannot be ontologically treated as a pure subject. “Sensuous consciousness” is the way human exists and it is a kind of self-awareness of the objectivity relation in which human is embedded (in connection with Vygotsky’s focus on self-consciousness in his research on children’s play). In sensuous consciousness, there is an integration of subjectivity and objectivity. Aesthetic experience belongs to “sensuous consciousness”. In the aesthetic experience, human being is able to grasp the sensuous connection between himself and the world and observe directly his sensuous freedom in the sensuous world created by himself. It is exactly in the sensuous connection grasped in aesthetic experience that makes the integration of experience-reflection and emotion-cognition possible.

The dynamic unfolding process of young children’s cultural-aesthetic experience in drama in education provides a good opportunity to investigate the emerging process of young children’s “sensuous consciousness”, which can be essential in young children’s social and cultural development. In the shared imaginary world launched by dramatic devices, the child is not an abstract subject dealing with the objects and the imaginary world is not pre-determined and given. It is a world arising from co-construction and creation, just as the subjectivity arising from the intersubjectivity.

To investigate such dynamic and ephemeral phenomena, various and flexible concepts and methods are required. Thus, I am eager to participate in the 8th ISCAR Summer University to revisit the fruitful and abundant work of cultural-historical and activity theory and also to have a further investigation on the theoretical connection between Vygotsky and Marx, which may help to reinterpret the original texts of Vygotsky. I am looking forward to an intensive learning, sharing and discussion in the various forms of the activities in the summer school!