Document Type

Theses, Ph.D


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


5.3 EDUCATIONAL SCIENCES, Social sciences

Publication Details

Successfully submitted for the award of Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D) to the Technological University Dublin, 2011.


While ECEC policy decisions usually reflect the predominant ideological stance of those actors involved, they also represent the outcome of a battle over values and objectives as vested interests within the inner spheres of policy making debate, contest and negotiate the nature of the problem and prescribe solutions to remedy it. Despite the integral importance of these processes, few studies explore how action and activity in these less visible arenas impact on policy design and outcome. By shifting the focus of policy analysis from the reified product of policy decisions to the behind the scenes processes of policy production, this research adds an extra layer of depth and understanding to the complexities and intricacies that shape ECEC policy. Using a methodical mapping exercise, this research identified the inner-elite of key policy actors engaged in the less visible arenas of policy making and explored their experiences and perspectives of ECEC policy development. Informed by theories of the policy making process and social constructions, the research adopts an interpretative approach and considers how behind the scenes complexities, contestations and struggles catalyse and constrain ECEC policy decisions. This study’s findings shed light on the many hidden and tacit dimensions of policy making and support a more nuanced understanding of the challenges involved in influencing and enhancing ECEC policy design and outcomes. Cumulatively this research study’s findings highlight: how a legislative and policy failure to extricate children conceptually from parents and family constrains policy actors’ conceptualisations of childhood and ECEC within a prohibitively narrow space; how a reliance on exogenous catalysts (rarely related to children) to initiate policy action relegates children to the periphery as competing policy agendas are prioritised; how political anxiety and ‘government distancing’ constrain commitment to children and intensify bargaining and negotiation among adult actors’ whose competing agendas create an austere barrier to positioning the child at the core of policy making; and how a resistance to resolve conflict through debate on ‘what we as a nation want for our children’ hinders a consensual and strategic policy embrace of the multi-dimensional components of ECEC.