Document Type

Theses, Ph.D


Available under a Creative Commons Attribution Non-Commercial Share Alike 4.0 International Licence



Publication Details

Successfully submitted for the award of Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D) to the Technological University Dublin, July, 2008.


In Ireland, early childhood learning and the role of play in children’s lives is receiving unprecedented recognition in national policy documents (Ireland, 1999c, 1999a, 1999b, 2000, 2004, N.C.C.A., 2004, C.E.C.D.E., 2006b). This thesis links learning and play and proposes to contribute to our understanding of both. The purpose of the research is to explicate the significant processes and outcomes of children’s participation in sociodramatic play. It takes a qualitative, ethnographic, interpretive approach which follows logically from the aim and the sociocultural discourse of learning constructed. This sociocultural discourse frames the observation and analysis of sociodramatic play in the study. Three key elements of sociocultural theory become the themes that are explored. They are (1) that children’s participation in play is mediated by culture, (2) that the processes and outcomes of sociodramatic play are negotiated on the intermental plane at the micro level of face to face interaction and at the macro level of transaction with cultural goals, values, artefacts and practices and (3) that in the process of participation in sociodramatic play, both culture and participants are transformed towards ongoing participation. The study is conducted primarily through participant observation in a suburban preschool playgroup with a cohort of 22 children ranging in age from 2 years and 8 months to 4 years and 9 months, over an academic year. The data consists of play episodes and field notes documented with the support of video recordings and analysed using Rogoff’s (1995) three planes of analysis. These planes align with the three themes of the research and provide the structure for the analysis chapters. The Community or Apprenticeship Plane is used to demonstrate the cultural nature of sociodramatic play. The Interpersonal or Guided Participation Plane serves to identify the interactive processes and outcomes in which children participate, while on the Individual or Participatory Appropriation Plane, outcomes in terms of cultural and personal transformations are considered. The findings of this research emerge from both the explication of sociocultural theory and the dialectic between the theoretical perspective and the play episodes. The theoretical perspective itself is a key contribution, with implications for early childhood education and the place of sociodramatic play. The study further explicates the processes of learning on the intermental plane and thereby informs the role of the early childhood pedagogue. Key play competencies, particularly emotional intersubjectivity, are identified. The ethnographic approach allows us to follow children’s transformations as they reconstruct, through their sociodramatic play roles and stories, their ways of belonging, contributing and communicating within the peer culture. The findings propose an individual-in-social activity centred pedagogy – a pedagogy of connection - with philosophical and practical implications for the practice of pedagogy.