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Smith, David G. (1983). The Meaning of Children in the Lives of Adults: A Hermeneutic Study. Unpublished Dissertation Edmonton: University of Alberta.


< Abstract >

The concern of this study is the meaning of children in the lives of adults. Attention is given to the way the question of ontological meaning is eclipsed in the dominant traditions of child study, such that reflection about children has become separated off from adult self-reflection. The study attempts to show how living with children most fundamentally takes the form of a dialogue, in which the ontological horizons of adult and child become linked in an eternal conversation.


The study has five basic thrusts. In the first, a critique of the underlying epistemology of contemporary child study is given. The argument is made that the positivistic origins of the field essentially render children as objects, suitable for scientific investigation and social manipulation, perhaps, but cut off from any necessary connection with the broader adult community. Secondly, the question of the nature of human understanding is raised, as a prelude to asking what it could mean to claim an understanding of children. The historical rise of the hermeneutic tradition is traced with the intention of showing the genesis of the central issues in interpretive social science. Friedrich Schleiermacher, Wilhelm Dilthey, Martin Heidegger, and Hans-Georg G&damer are discussed as seminal figures.


A third interest is to discern how the key insights of the hermeneutic tradition bear on the conduct and interpretation of life-world research. The nature of human questioning and conversation is explored, particularly from the perspective of Gadamer’s hermeneutic of the Platonic dialogues. This leads to the fourth aspect of the study which is a series of conversations with adults involved with children in both conventional and less conventional circumstances. For example, two unmarried teenage mothers-to-be are spoken with, as well as parents in a more traditional nuclear family. Representing people involved with children not their own, are five educators. All conversations are edited then reconstructed as a form of narrative text from which to show forms of ontological disclosure apparent within the speaking.


The ontological pointings, as they are referred to, form the basis of the fifth aspect of the study, which is an experiment in the art of hermeneutic writing. Hermeneutic writing, as a form of poetic, draws from the ideational character of human speaking and attempts to show what it is that is spoken through speech. As a poetic, it presents itself explicitly as one-sided, as an invitation to others to become engaged dialogically in that of which it speaks. Four themes or clusters are developed hermeneutically from the research conversations. These include “The Insistent Voice”~of children in the adult experience; children as eliciting adult reflection on “The Need for a Place”; “The Speaking of the Generations and the Sense of What is Right”; and “Extending Oneself, Watchinq Children Grow, Reaching Kids.” The experience of the educators is discussed separately.