Creating popular culture encounters in leisure-time centres

Boys looking at an ipad.

In leisure-time centres, children develop their identity and understanding of different ways of being. Popular culture centres creation and language, offering opportunities for children and teachers to meet. We explore how culture is produced here.

The purpose of this study is to increase knowledge of children’s and adults’ constructions of popular culture in leisure-time centre practice. In order to achieve this, we start with the following preliminary research questions:

  • Whose cultural expressions are centred in leisure-time centres?
  • What cultural engagements are done in leisure-time centres?
  • What opportunities do children have in meeting different cultural expressions in leisure-time centres?
  • How are cultural artefacts utilized in leisure-time centre activities?

Popular culture a collective strength

Part of the job as a teacher in leisure-time centres is to face the tension between different (popular) cultural interests and values central to different children, as well as teachers. Almost half a million Swedish children, aged 6-12 attend leisure-time centres every week This is approximately 57% of all children of this age, and the figure has steadily risen in the past ten years (Skolverket, 2020). The purpose of the leisure-time centre is to “offer students a meaningful free time […] to develop and try out identities and ideas in encounters with others […,] utilize differences and diversity and in this way give students the opportunity to deepen their understanding of different ways of thinking and being” (Skolverket, 2019, p. 22). Because of this, it is central to the leisure-time centre to work with language, communication, creation, and aesthetic expression (Skolverket, 2019), and popular culture is a collective strength for this. In this study, we focus on how children can (co)construct culture with other children and adults in leisure-time centres.

Focus on culture by children

We are interested in popular culture as a broad understanding of children’s, youths’, and adults’ interests in art, literature, music, games and more (Persson, 2002, 2000), digitally as well as analogue. Primarily, we are focused on two aspects that Mouritsen (2002) call culture by children, meaning games, creation of media, etc., which children make themselves; and culture with children, where children and adults are co-creators of culture. We are interested in construction of what can be called children’s cultural capital (Bourdieu, 1993), their cultural knowledge and ability (Bourdieu, 1993; see also Broady, 1988), and how this capital is managed by teachers at the leisure-time centre.

Observing children's interaction

The initial data collection is planned for Spring 2022. We aim to study children’s and adults’ interactions in the leisure-time centre and their situated construction of culture, meaning artefacts and concepts representing ideas and values based in social context (cf. Berger & Luckmann, 1967). This is studied through situated video observations taking place during the leisure-time centre afternoons. As the conversation analytical perspective focuses on participants’ social interaction and the intersubjective understanding of participants through gesture and speech (e.g., Hutchby & Wooffitt, 2008; Jewitt, 2008), video observations are the most appropriate method of data collection. Through this, we can observe a great amount of detail in interaction and preserve these interactions so that they can be repeatedly observed for analytical detail (Mondada, 2006). From an ethical perspective, it is of course necessary to have informed consent from all participants, as well as the children themselves and their legal guardians (Vetenskapsrådet, 2002, 2017). It is further important that leisure-time centre teachers are constructive parties in administrating the study, so that they feel included and heard, and to lessen any interruption of the regular work they are doing with the children. We will contact leisure-time centre teachers in order to gain their perspectives on setting up the study, as well as shaping the information for children and guardians – in order to make the information as apt and relevant as possible for all participants.

In this work, we take an interest in different forms of mass culture or popular culture (Persson, 2002, 2000) and how it is co-constructed and negotiated by children and teachers in the leisure-time centre. Research on leisure-time centre pedagogy is still limited (Falkner & Ludvigsson, 2016), which means that this study contributes not only to an increase in knowledge on the use of popular culture, but also on leisure-time center pedagogy more broadly. This study also contributes to a larger debate on the merits of leisure-time centres, and their place in helping children’s social and cultural development (see, e.g., Martinsson, 2015, 2018; Persson, 2002, 2000; Wallner, 2020) and provide children with a meaningful free time.


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Lars Wallner, Katarina Eriksson Barajas (2020)

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