Theses Doctoral

"I know how to take a picture": Young children's photographic practices and the construction of identity

Templeton, Tran Nguyen

Young children have been the leading subject of family photos since the inception of the camera in 1839. Now, in the era of universal pre-kindergarten (UPK), cameras are commonly used by early childhood teachers, in efforts to “make learning visible” (Giudici, Rinaldi, & Krechevsky, 2001). These photographs of children’s experiences act as evidence for accountability measures and give rise to the image of the neoliberal child, the individual in the first stage of becoming workforce-ready. Simultaneously the children in pictures remain subject to prevailing notions of innocence and naïveté, and these adult-conceived images have been the driving force on which early childhood curriculum is based.
As a consistently marginalized group, young children have largely been left out of narratives about them, but what happens when they have access to tools to construct their own identities? How would they present their multiple selves across time and contexts? Situated at the nexus of visual sociology, early childhood literacies, and critical childhood studies, this work positions children ages 2 to 5 as a cultural group worthy of study. Adept with cameras to construct themselves, the participants in this image-based study took photographs across their home, school, and public spaces, shedding light on childhoods through children’s eyes. In a process of Collaborative Seeing (Luttrell, 2010b, 2016), involving multiple image-making and audiencing opportunities, the participants presented aspects of social life that mattered to them.
Using ethnographic methods (e.g. participant observations, child-directed interviews, and child focus groups), I highlight the children’s intimate encounters with public spaces, everyday objects and technologies, and relations with peers and adults. The findings suggest that children’s identities are co-constructed in and through complex networks of the human, non-human, temporal, and spatial. Young children’s understandings of the world far exceed adults’ ideas of them, and the children’s photographic practices call into question the adult gaze that has been imposed onto childhoods and lend insight into the potential for participatory research with children. This work proposes that we re-examine contemporary theories of child development and aims for more complex images of children and childhoods that can expand what is possible for early childhood curriculum.


  • thumnail for Templeton_tc.columbia_0055E_10815.pdf Templeton_tc.columbia_0055E_10815.pdf application/pdf 255 MB Download File

More About This Work

Academic Units
Curriculum and Teaching
Thesis Advisors
Yoon, Haeny S.
Lesko, Nancy
Ed.D., Teachers College, Columbia University
Published Here
June 2, 2018