Doing joy. Performances of joy in children’s relations in early childhood and education settings

Thesis event information

Date and time of the thesis defence

Place of the thesis defence

Martti Ahtisaari hall (L2), Zoom link:

Topic of the dissertation

Doing joy. Performances of joy in children’s relations in early childhood and education settings

Doctoral candidate

Master of Arts (education) Satu Karjalainen

Faculty and unit

University of Oulu Graduate School, Faculty of Education, Teachers, Teaching and Educational Communities

Subject of study

Educational sciences


Professor Niina Rutanen, University of Jyväskylä


Docent Anna-Maija Puroila, University of Oulu

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Doing joy - joy in children’s relations in early childhood and education settings

The study focuses on performances of joy in children’s relations in everyday life situations in early childhood education and care (ECEC) settings. The aim is to explore how these joyous performances shape and are shaped by children’s relations. The study was conducted at one Finnish open ECEC center between 2013 and 2016. The research material consisted of video recordings, written observations, and field notes. In the analysis, a holistic narrative approach was utilized.

The study is positioned in the scientific field of childhood studies. The theoretical and methodological premises are drawn from narrative approaches and from the dialogical philosophy of Martin Buber. The study challenges the traditional individual perspective on emotion research and is based on a holistic approach to performativity in which insights are applied from the fields of narrative and emotion research. The joyous performances in children’s everyday relations incorporate the feeling body and mind and the diversity of the socio-cultural, temporal, and material world.

The study provides novel insights into joy, which is, on the one hand, emphasized in curricula and other educational documents, but on the other hand, often remains unspecified. The findings show that ECEC settings form a particular environment in which the joys of both children and teachers are performed. The joyous performances serve as the means for navigating through the daily routines and timetables and through the complex relations that are entangled with temporal, spatial, and material conditions. The study demonstrates that performative joys are active ways of doing. By performing joy with peers, children co-construct their culture in ECEC settings and smooth their making and living within complex relations. Teachers’ joyous performances create a positive and safe atmosphere and emphasize pedagogical purposes. The findings imply that doing joy shapes both children’s and teachers’ being, becoming, and belonging in the everyday relations in the ECEC environment. Although the study reveals how joy can be a means of exclusion, it also shows the potential of co-constructed joyous performances to enhance reciprocal encounters and relational agency in children’s everyday lived relationships.
Last updated: 1.3.2023