Martin Luther University Halle-Wittenberg

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Distinction in Institutional Settings in Early Childhood Education and Care

Project Director

Prof. Dr. Johanna Mierendorff , Martin-Luther-Universität Halle-Wittenberg, Institut für Pädagogik (i)

Research Associates

Dr. Thilo Ernst (i), Dipl.-Päd. Marius Mader (i), Dipl.-Päd. Gesine Nebe

Abstract 2nd funding phase (2014-17)

The project addresses itself to commercial high-cost childcare centres, whose recent proliferation is a new and unusual phenomenon in the German context. Using qualitative methods we investigate how these providers establish themselves and how they manage to persist. What are the consequences for the further differentiation and hierarchization of centre-based childcare, and what processes of institutional distinction can be identified? Since 2011 we have been working on parental choice of childcare centres, family selection by the centres and practices of social distinction. Besides finding a strong reciprocity of processes of choice and selection, we learned that reconstructing a centre’s organizational culture is key to understanding practices of distinction.

Three objectives guide our research in the second funding period, which runs until September 2017. Firstly, we aim to research collective strategies and orientations, and assume a certain alignment of the two between the supply and demand sides to be a prerequisite for the stabilization of organizational cultures. We concentrate, secondly, on the interactive production of coherence both within and between different organizational milieus. Finally, we synthesize our findings in profiles of institutional childcare. In the form of detailed case studies of the centres under review, we present our findings on the structure and regulation of German ECEC, the formal structure of the respective centre, its pedagogical and supportive services and aspects of the local childcare market, as well as those on processes of choice, selection and coherence, and practices of distinction. This synthesis will allow us to relate the centres to each other and to the structure of German ECEC as a whole, thus providing an insight into the stratification and possible division of the institutional landscape.

Abstract 1st funding phase (2011-14)

The current shift in the function and meaning of Early Childhood Education and Care in Germany is the point of reference for this project: firstly, the ongoing transformation of institutional child care into the first level of the educational system and, secondly, its gradual development from a primarily compensatory welfare benefit into a modern, economically driven service. In the course of this recent development the field of institutional child care experienced further differentiation in the forms of child-care supply, including an increase in the number of commercial providers involved. This phenomenon has drawn both professional and media attention and has been widely discussed as the possible renunciation of the established principle of a “Kindergarten for everyone”. The finance model practised in these institutions creates an economic entrance barrier. This is thought to be a deliberate dissociation from an originally egalitarian child-care sector. The research project focuses on the question of how institutional processes of distinction are set in motion and maintained, and how they contribute to the creation of hierarchical structures within the child-care system. Apart from producing organizational order, the project concentrates specifically on the interactional and intersubjective production of coherence among protagonists in the field. Using a mix of research methods, including participant observation, open interviews and document analysis, data will be collected in both commercial and traditional child-care institutions, and subsequently be analysed with reconstructive methods.

Publications and Conference Contributions

Information on our publications, working papers and lectures/presentations can be found here.