Conflicts and resistance: Potentials for democracy learning in preschool

Johansson, E., & Emilson, A.
International Journal of Early Years Education 24(1), 19-35.


The purpose of this study is to investigate how children and teachers express resistance in everyday conflicts in preschool, and how these conflicts enable democracy learning. The study examines whether and how different opinions are expressed in everyday conflicts, as well as whether and how these opinions are heard and respected. Moreover, the study examines various types of conflict and expressions of resistance, for example about rights, care, solidarity, rules and the social order in preschool.


The authors identify two main categories for the resistance expressed by children and teachers in everyday conflicts. The two categories are described on the basis of the space provided for democracy learning in preschool, i.e. space for diversity which illustrates openness for different opinions to be articulated and heard, and space for unity which illustrates how alliances and authority create conditions and restrictions for opinions to be articulated and heard and/or neglected. Overall, the analysis shows that both categories of conflict offer possibilities for democracy learning, but also obstacles.

The authors find that children's playfulness and courage are ways in which children express resistance in their interactions with other children and with teachers. Children also express resistance via solidarity in that together they demand that other children be held accountable for their actions, for example. In this way, resistance can gather the children and boost their sense of belonging and their individual strength. Conflicts can enable children to learn about solidarity, and how to support one another. Moreover, the children can learn about the meaning of exclusion and inclusion. The results indicate that the children can learn how rules can be challenged and negotiated, and that conflicts can be used to express opinions. Conflicts can also allow the children to learn and experience what it means to stand by their opinions.

The study shows that conflicts enable the children to learn that some situations have restricted space for the child's own opinions, and that it is not always a good idea to express resistance in situations in which the teacher or a peer has the power to decide. Conflicts can also enable children to learn how and when to obey authorities and adapt to the social order without asking questions. According to the authors, it takes courage to express resistance in such situations.

The authors stress that conflicts in themselves do not enable democracy learning, but that it is necessary that the parties in the conflict respect each other as persons with a right to express opinions, if conflicts are to enable democracy learning in preschool.


Data was collected at four ECEC institutions, and a total of 65 1-3-year-old children and 15 teachers took part in the study. The data material consists of 44 hours of video observation of teacher-child and child-child interactions in both formal situations (for example circle time) and informal situations (for example free play). The video observations were then transcribed and formed the basis for an in-depth analysis for which the author had selected four situations. The analysis also included power relationships and distribution of powers.


Johansson, E., & Emilson, A. (2016). Conflicts and resistance: Potentials for democracy learning in preschool. International Journal of Early Years Education 24(1), 19-35.

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