Defense Date


Graduation Date

Fall 12-21-2018


One-year Embargo

Submission Type


Degree Name



Clinical Psychology


McAnulty College and Graduate School of Liberal Arts

Committee Chair

Eva Maria Simms

Committee Member

Leswin Laubscher

Committee Member

Elizabeth Fine


Child-Centric research, Child-map, decolonizing methodology, deconstruction, phenomenology, community participatory research, children's places, Derrida's hospitality


This dissertation adopts an innovative phenomenological and deconstructive methodology to create a child-centric research process sensitive to facilitating, integrating, and representing children’s voices in designing their school playground. The study developed and employed two novel child-centric methods, an Embedded Walk and a Communal Child-Map Project in order to integrate parents’ and children’s experiences of the school spaces the authorities planned to renovate. Both methods reveal and complicate the socio-political dynamics that structure children’s, parents’, and researchers’ stances towards children’s places and worlds. During the Embedded Walk, children led their parents through their play spaces and they collaboratively documented the childrens’ experiences of the places through drawings and written descriptions (ensemble voices). After the walk, in the Communal Child Map Project they marked these places with colored pins on a map of the school grounds created by the older children that was displayed in the school hallway. Re-thinking and creating unique methods that prioritize children’s perspectives signified a political change, entitling children to designate their own territories. Displaying their perspectives in a public space to an audience of adults and other children empowered their voices by shifting it from a private exchange with parents or peers to a communal dialogue.

The phenomenological part of this study presents children’s experiential descriptions of their places in the world of the schoolyard and the diverse affordances these places provide. The deconstructive part of this study reveals how children find a place in an adult-centric world and how their place-making is impacted by the presence of adult-centric structures. In its commitment to understanding political activism as a transformative process, the author presents the subtle and profound shifts that the two methods, “embedded walk” and “Communal Child Map,” introduced into the lives of parents and children by cultivating spaces for children to speak, and parents to listen differently. Interviews conducted with five mothers suggested that the insights realized during the study enabled distinct modes of seeing, engaging, and attuning parents to their children’s places, activities, and desires. This fresh outlook impacted their relationship even beyond the study. Moving away from traditional academic structures where the researcher provides technocratic theories and specific steps to achieve child empowerment, this study builds on Derrida’s notion of hospitality to propose an alternative model of empowerment. By analyzing an unexpected resistance movement organized by adolescents in the Child-Map study, the author argues that the ethos of child empowerment is surrendering to and receiving the gifts that children give to the researcher, by transforming, shifting directions, and according a new voice to the work: re-introducing them to their own research.