Sylheti-heritage children in urban Scotland: challenging the deficit model through the lens of childhood in Sylhet
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This thesis seeks to challenge deficit approaches to ‘different’ childhoods. It does this through documenting the everyday life experiences of Sylheti-heritage Muslim children in urban Scotland, and reading these childhoods through the lives of children and their kin in rural Sylhet, Bangladesh. The research is based on 3 years’ ethnographic fieldwork (January 2008-February 2011), in Scotland and in Bangladesh, and incorporates various child-friendly creative research methods used to elicit data on children’s realities and perspectives on their lives. These data are supplemented by data from the children’s mothers (and occasionally wider family) in both locations. Transnational migration between the Indian subcontinent and the UK is not new, but little research has focused on childhoods, in particular the lived experiences of young Muslim children of marriage-migrant mothers in Scotland, where this minority ethnic ‘community’ is quite small, later-formed and largely invisible. Little early childhood research has been conducted on children’s everyday lives either in rural Sylhet or in Scotland. The history and context of migration and the realities of children’s lives in Scotland, as migrant-heritage Muslim children, are largely unexplored and their particular needs are little understood. Some media and public imaginaries and discourses portray Muslim families and their communities as ‘problematic’, increasingly so since September 11th, 2001, with recent events in the UK, mainland Europe and the Middle East adding fuel to such sentiments. Many Sylheti-heritage families experience harassment and abuse, or live in fear of such eventualities, and the women and young children in my Scottish cohort have largely withdrawn for safety from the visible public domain. This research aims to contribute to a body of knowledge on early childhood(s). Early childhood interventions are high on Scotland’s, and the UK’s, policy agendas. These policies aim to create better futures and greater inclusiveness for all residents, but they are problematic for families that do not match the very Euro-American middle-class conceptions of childhood and family norms that inform policy. Despite the introduction of strengths-based models in family and childhood policy and practice, such ‘different’ children and families may still be viewed from a deficits perspective. Such deficit discourses may be rooted in a language of cultural deprivation and special needs, focusing on perceived deficiencies, resulting in the pathologising of certain groups, which become normalised over time. The global Early Years’ agenda is also reflected in interventions in rural Bangladesh, with imported global ideals and norms of which most village families have no knowledge and which bear little relevance to their everyday lives. For example, many interventions exist for early childhood in the form of pre-school and nursery provision, but many are based on very Eurocentric models of childhood, which although pertinent in the Global North may not ‘fit’ with the realities of life for most rural children and their families. There is an over-emphasis on children’s futures and children as ‘becomings’, the future citizens they will become, rather than on their quality of life here and now as ‘beings’. This thesis frames children’s everyday lives in terms of ‘domains’: places of childhood (locations of children’s day-to-day activities), ‘networks’: spaces of childhood (social networks and relationships with kin and friends); and ‘preoccupations’: pursuits of childhood (how they spend their lives and what meaning, if any, they attach to these different aspects of life). The gendered character of these experiences is highlighted throughout. Children’s lives, particularly when young, are influenced and shaped by their kin, yet opportunities for agency also exist. When women migrate after marriage from Sylhet to Scotland, some aspects of childhood and family lives remain fairly constant while others change quite radically. For instance, whilst children’s lives continue to be centred on close family, family may be much smaller and less accessible than in Sylhet. Concepts of house and neighbourhood continue to be important, but Sylheti village childhoods are largely spent outdoors, whilst children are largely restricted to the family home in Scotland; children’s physical domains of activity diminish and women and children have few opportunities to connect socially beyond their existing family networks, particularly in the early years. Social life, very rich and foregrounded in Sylheti villages, becomes potentially more restricted in Scotland although women work hard to create and maintain social opportunities and networks in Scotland, with wider Diasporic kin, and the Sylheti villages to which they have connections. Through their representations and narratives, both drawn and spoken, children convey rich examples of their childhood experiences, in both locales, which challenge deficit discourses on ‘different childhoods’.