Mobility Experiments: Learning Urban Travel with Children in Helsinki

by Kim Kullman

Institution: University of Helsinki
Department: Department of Social Studies
Year: 2015
Keywords: sociology
Record ID: 1133843
Full text PDF: http://hdl.handle.net/10138/152761


Working between and beyond the interdisciplinary areas of childhood studies and children’s geographies, this thesis explores how children learn practices of everyday mobility in metropolitan Helsinki (population 1.4 million). Children’s urban movement has become a contested issue in Euro-American settings due to a range of developments, among them the growth in car traffic, the increase in travel distances to school and the widening influence of risk thinking on cultural understandings of childhood. Such tendencies have conspired to intensify the regulation of children’s engagements with urban environments, thereby circumscribing their agencies and sociabilities. Elaborating a more affirmative account of children’s mobility, this thesis gives prominence to the varied competencies, experiences and knowledges of movement that are already in place in the daily lives of families. Through a close exploration of the actual practices whereby children foster their mobilities, the thesis indicates that some of the current concerns around children’s urban movement are misplaced and that societies need to reconsider how children are involved in the shaping of present and future mobilities. The thesis draws on empirical research in two specific sites where children in Helsinki learn mobility: a model traffic area for 5-10-year-olds and the school journeys of 7-12-year-olds, the first of these providing an entry-point into formal pedagogical practices, the second into informal learning through mundane urban travel. The study has deployed various qualitative and participatory methods—including mobile ethnography, digital picture-making and visual interviews—to create an open-ended and flexible arena for children, parents and educators to experiment with diverse ways of becoming mobile and to convey their experiences of such becomings. Further extending this approach, the thesis allies itself with Donald Woods Winnicott, Daniel Stern, Gilles Deleuze, Bruno Latour and other thinkers to trace out a series of mobility experiments, transformative relational arrangements, which suggest a three-fold argument about mobile learning. First, the thesis develops a detailed account of children’s mobility that eschews generalised assumptions about their agency, stressing instead its dynamic and relational emergence as part of daily practices of movement. Children’s mobility in Helsinki is often constituted in collective experiments that draw together a variety of people and materials, from parents and siblings to zebra crossings and bicycles—all carefully composed to engage children in an equally safe and playful elaboration of their agency in relation to other urban bodies. Describing these heterogeneous set-ups and their intricate workings, the thesis brings out the creativity and diversity of children’s everyday movements. Second, the thesis proposes an affirmative view of children’s mundane mobilities by demonstrating that the experimental forms of learning cultivated by the families and educators in Helsinki contribute to children’s…